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H i s t o r y
o f
V i d e o A r t
H i s t o r y
o f
V i d e o A r t
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9780857851772_txt_print.indd 2 10/09/2013 09:45
H i s t o r y
o f
V i d e o
A r t
Chris Meigh-Andrews
2nd Edition
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Bloomsbury Academic
An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc
1385 Broadway 50 Bedford Square
New York London
NY 10018 WC1B 3DP
Bloomsbury is a registered trade mark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
First published 2006 by Berg Publishers
Tis 2nd edition Chris Meigh-Andrews, 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or
any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the
No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining
from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or
the author.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN: ePDF: 978-0-8578-5188-8

Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN
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List of Black and White Illustrations viii
List of Colour Plates xii
Preface to the 2
edition xiii
Introduction 2
1. In the Beginning: Te Origins of Video Art 6
2. Crossing Boundaries: International Tendencies and Infuences in Early
Artists Video 20
3. Technology, Access and Context: Social and Political Activists and their Role in
the Development of Video Art 77
4. Expanded Cinema: Te Infuence and Relationship of Experimental, Avant-
Garde and Underground Film to Artists Video 89
5. Musique Concrte, Fluxus and Tape Loops: Te Infuence and Impact of Sound
Recording and Experimental Music on Video Art 105
6. Teory and Practice: Te Infuence and Impact of Teoretical Ideas on Early
Technology-Based Practice in the 1970s and some Signifcant and Infuential
Figures in the Development of Teoretical Discourse and Teir Impact on
Contemporary Art after Modernism 116
7. Beyond Te Lens: Abstract Video Imagery and Image Processing 132
8. In and Out of the Studio: Te Advent of Inexpensive Non-Broadcast Video 171
Monitor, Steve Partridge, UK, 1975; Television Delivers People, Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay
Schoolman, USA,1973; Tis is a Television Receiver, David Hall, UK, 1974; Vertical Roll, Joan Jonas,
USA, 1972; Te Video Touch,Wojciech Bruszewski, Poland, 1977; Marca Registrada [Trademark],
Leticia Parente, Brazil, 1975
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I .
9. Cutting It: Accessible Video Editing 189
Keeping Marlene Out of the Picture, Eric Cameron, Canada, 1973; Technology/ Transformation: Wonder
Woman, Dara Birnbaum, USA, 1979; With Child, Catherine Elwes, UK, 1984; Blue Monday, Duvet
Brothers, UK, 1984; Der Westen Lebt [Te Western Lives], Klaus vom Bruch, West Germany, 1983;
Sztuka To Potega [Art is Power], Josef Robakowski, Poland, 1985
10. Mixing It: Electronic/Digital Image Manipulation 209
Monument, Ture Sjlander and Lars Weck, Sweden, 1967; Merging-Emerging, Peter Donebauer, UK,
1978; Te Refecting Pool, Bill Viola, USA, 19779; Obsessive Becoming; Daniel Reeves, UK/USA,
1995; Art of Memory, Woody Vasulka, USA, 1987; Juste le Temps, Robert Cahen, France, 1983; Neo
Geo: An American Purchase, Peter Callas, Australia, 1989
11. Te Gallery Opens its Doors: Video Installation and Projection 231
De La, Michael Snow, Canada, 1971; Il Nuotatore, Studio Azzurro, Italy, 1984; Television Circle, Judith
Goddard, UK, 1987; Te Situation Envisaged: Te Rite II, David Hall, UK, 1988; Tall Ships, Gary
Hill, USA, 1992; AIEUONN Six Features, Takahiko Iimura, Japan, 1999
12. Te Ubiquity of the Video Image: Artists Video as an International
Phenomenon 248
Turbulent, Shirin Neshat, Iran, 1998; Wild Boy, Guy Ben-Ner, Israel, 2004; Shan Pipe Band Learns the
Star Spangled Banner, Bani Abidi, Pakistan, 2004; 30x30, Zhang Peili, China, 1998; Virus, Churchill
Madikida, South Africa, 2005
13. Fields, Lines and Frames: Video as an Electronic Medium 263
Television Workshops: Broadcast and Cable; Closed-circuit TV; Sound and Picture: Colour and
Monochrome; Relationship to Sound, Te picture signal, the camera image, recordings and tape
14. Te Means of Production: Feminism and Otherness Race, Gender,
Technology and Access 282
New Technologies: Freedom from History; Performance, video, intimacy and liveness. Ethnicity,
sexuality, race and issues of representation, access and visibility; Alternative means of distribution and
15. Of the Wall: Video Sculpture and Installation 293
Video Installation: Relationships between Images and Space; Multi-channel video non cinematic
space?; Video Sculpture; Projection installation: video without the box: Breaking the frame.
16. Going Digital: Te Emergence of Digital Video Editing, Processing
and Efects 310
Accessible Digital Efects; From Analogue to Digital; Computers, Non-linear Editing and Digital
Video; New video formats and computer software; Te Database and Interactivity: new narrative
possibilities; High-defnition video; Video and the world wide web
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17. Video Art in the New Millennium: New Developments in Artists Video
since 2000 328
Convergence: Recent Artists Video and Blurring of Film and Video; Conclusion and Summary
Glossary 341
Notes 347
Bibliography 369
Index 377
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Steina, Violin Power, 1978. Courtesy of the artist. i
Tamara Krikorian, Disintegrating Forms, Video Installation, 1976. Courtesy of the artist. ii
1.1: Nam June Paik, Family of Robot: Grandmother and Grandfather, 1986. Courtesy
of the artist and Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo by Carl Kowal. 15
1.2: Sony AV 3400 Portapak, 1986. Courtesy of Richard Diehl,
http://www.labguysworld.com 18
2.1: Madelon Hooykaas and Elsa Stansfeld, Finding, 1983. Courtesy of the artists. 27
2.2: Wojciech Bruszewski, From X to X, 1976. Courtesy of the artist. 30
2.3: Lisa Steele, Birthday Suit, 1974, Courtesy of V-tape and the artist. 35
2.4: Lisa Steele, Birthday Suit, 1974, Courtesy of V-tape and the artist. 36
2:5 Jean-Pierre Boyer, Inedit, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 37
2.6: Takahiko Iimura, Man and Woman, 1971. Courtesy of the artist. 40
2.7: Visual Brains, De Sign 2, 1991. Courtesy of the artists. 42
2.8: Leticia Parente, Preparao I, 1975. Courtesy of Andr Parente. 44
2.9: Peter Kennedy, John Hughes and Andrew Scollo, November Eleven, 1979. Courtesy
of the artists. 46
2.10: Gary Willis, Te Ve Vu Du, 1982. Courtesy of the artist. 49
2.11: TVX, Area Code 613, 1969. Photographer, John Hoppy Hopkins. 58
2.12: David Hall, TV Interruptions, 1971. Courtesy of the artist. 61
2.13: David Hall, A Situation Envisaged: Te Rite, 1980. Courtesy of the artist. 64
2.14: Stephen Partridge, Monitor, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 66
2.15: Tamara Krikorian, Disintegrating Forms, Video Installation, 1976. Courtesy
of the artist. 67
2.16: Brian Hoey, Videvent, 19756. Courtesy of the artist. 68
2.17: David Hall and Tony Sinden, 101 TV Sets. 1975. Courtesy of the artists. 69
2.18: Tony Sinden, Behold Vertical Devices, sketch, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 70
2.19: Tony Sinden, Behold Vertical Devices, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 70
2.20: Tina Keane, Te Swing, 1978. Courtesy of the artist. 71
2.21: David Critchley, Static Acceleration, 1976. Courtesy of the artist. 72
2.22: David Critchley, Pieces I Never Did, 1979. Courtesy of the artist. 73
3.1: Sony CV2600. Courtesy of Richard Diehl, http://www.labguysworld.com 87
7.1: Stephen Beck operating his Video Weaver, 1976. Courtesy of the artist,
www.stevebeck.tv 141
7.2: Jean-Pierre Boyer with his Boytizeur, 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 142
7.3: Dan Sandin with the frst IP, built by Phil Morton, 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 143
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7.4: Stephen Jones, Video Synth No 2, 1979. Courtesy of the artist. 145
7.5 Scanimate. Courtesy of Dave Sieg. 146
7.6: Fairlight CVI, 1984. Courtesy of Stephen Jones. 147
7.7: Woody Vasulka, C-Trend, 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 151
7.8: Woody Vasulka, C-Trend, 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 151
7.9: Woody Vasulka, C-Trend, 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 151
7.10: Steina, Violin Power, 1978. Courtesy of the artist. 154
7.11: Steina, Violin Power, 1978. Courtesy of the artist. 154
7.12: Steina, Violin Power, 1978. Courtesy of the artist. 154
7.13: Steina, All Vision Machine, 1976. Courtesy of the artist. 155
7.14: Spectre prototype, 1974. Courtesy of EMS. 157
7.15: EMS Spectron (Production model), 1975. Courtesy of EMS. 157
7.16: Peter Donebauer, Diagram of live performance elements, 1978.
Courtesy of the artist. 160
7.17: Peter Donebauer during BBC Transmission, 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 161
7.18: Prototype Videokalos interior, 1976. Courtesy of the artist. 162
7.19: Peter Donebauer and Richard Monkhouse, VAMP Performance, 1977.
Courtesy of the artist. 163
7.20: Te Videokalos Image Processor, production version, 19778. Courtesy
of Peter Donebauer. 165
8.1: Stephen Partridge, Monitor, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 173
8.2: David Hall, Tis is a Television Receiver, 1976. Courtesy of the artist. 178
8.3: Wojciech Bruszewski, Te Video Touch, 1976. Courtesy of the artist. 182
8.4: Wojciech Bruszewski, Te Video Touch, 1977. Courtesy of the artist. 183
8.5: Leticia Parente, Marca Registrada (Trademark), 1975. Courtesy of Andr Parente. 186
8.6: Leticia Parente, Marca Registrada (Trademark), 1975. Courtesy of Andr Parente. 186
9.1: Eric Cameron, Keeping Marlene Out of the Picture, 1973. Courtesy of the artist. 192
9.2: Eric Cameron, Keeping Marlene Out of the Picture, 1973. Courtesy of the artist. 192
9.3: Eric Cameron, Keeping Marlene Out of the Picture, 1973. Courtesy of the artist. 193
9.4: Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1979. Courtesy
of Electronic Arts Intermix, EAI, New York, http://www.eai.org 195
9.5: Catherine Elwes, With Child, 1983. Courtesy of the artist. 199
9.6: Catherine Elwes, With Child, 1983. Courtesy of the artist. 199
9.7: Sony RM440 edit controller, photo by the author. 200
9.8: Klaus vom Bruch and Heike Melba-Fendel, Der Westen Lebt, 1983. Courtesy of
Electronic Arts Intermix (EIA), New York, http://eia.org 203
9.9: Josef Robakowski, Sztuka To Potega (Art is Power), 19845. Courtesy of the artist. 206
10.1: Ture Sjlander and Lars Weck, Monument, 1967. Courtesy of the artists. 210
10.2: Dan Reeves, Obsessive Becoming, 1995, Courtesy of the artist. 218
10.3: Dan Reeves, Obsessive Becoming, 1995, Courtesy of the artist. 218
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10.4: Woody Vasulka, Art of Memory, 1987. Courtesy of the artist. 222
10.5: Robert Cahen, Juste le Temps, 1983. Courtesy of the artist. 225
10.6: Peter Callas, Neo Geo, 1989. Courtesy of the artist. 228
11.1: Michael Snow, De La, 196972. Courtesy of the artist. 232
11.2: Studio Azzurro (Fabio Cirifno, Paola Rosa and Leonardo Sangiorgi), Il
Nuotatore (va troppo spesso ad Heidelberg), Te Swimmer (goes to Heidelberg too
often) 1984. Courtesy of the artists. 235
11.3: Judith Goddard, Television Circle, 1987. Courtesy of the artist. 238
11.4: David Hall, Te Situation Envisaged: Rite II, diagram, 1980. Courtesy of the artist. 239
11.5: Gary Hill, Tall Ships, Sixteen-channel Installation, 1992. Courtesy of the artist
and Donald Young Gallery, Chicago. Photo by Dirk Bleiker. 242
11.6: Gary Hill, Tall Ships, Sixteen-channel Installation (Detail) 1992. Courtesy of
the artist and Donald Young Gallery, Chicago. Photo by Dirk Bleiker. 242
11.7: Takahiko limura, AIUEONN, Six Features, Interactive installation, 2012.
Courtesy of the artist and Harris Museum, Preston. 244
11.8: Takahiko limura, AIUEONN, Six Features, Interactive installation (detail), 1993.
Courtesy of the artist. 244
12.1: Guy Ben-Ner, Wild Boy, 2004. Courtesy of the artist. 252
12.2: Guy Ben-Ner, Wild Boy, 2004. Courtesy of the artist. 252
12.3: Bani Abidi, Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star-Spangled Banner, 2004. Courtesy
of the artist. 255
13.1: Sony VO 3800, Portable U-matic recorder, 1976. Courtesy of Richard Diehl,
http://labguysworld.com 266
13.2: Sony VO 4800, Portable U-matic recorder 1980. Courtesy of Richard Diehl,
http://labguysworld.com 266
13.3: Gary Hill, Why Do Tings Get in a Muddle? (Come on Petunia) 1984. Courtesy
of the artist and Donald Young Gallery, Chicago. 270
13.4: Gary Hill, Why Do Tings Get in a Muddle? (Come on Petunia) 1984. Courtesy
of the artist and Donald Young Gallery, Chicago. 270
13.5: Gary Hill, Why Do Tings Get in a Muddle? (Come on Petunia) 1984. Courtesy
of the artist and Donald Young Gallery, Chicago. 270
13.6 Mary Lucier, Dawn Burn, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 273
13.7 Mary Lucier, Dawn Burn, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 273
13.8 Mary Lucier, Dawn Burn, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 273
13.9 Mary Lucier, Dawn Burn, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 273
14.1 Video installation in Shirley Clarkes Studio, 1972. Photograph by Peter Angelo
Simon. 285
14.2 Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975. Courtesy of EAI, New York,
http://www.eai.org 286
14.3: Katherine Meynell, Hannahs Song, 1987. Courtesy of the artist. 288
14.4: Katherine Meynell, Hannahs Song, 1987. Courtesy of the artist. 288
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15.1: Beryl Korot, confgurations of Dachau 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 296
15.2: Beryl Korot, Structural diagram for Dachau 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 297
15.3: Madelon Hooykaas and Elsa Stansfeld, Compass 1984 (Outside). Courtesy of the
artists. 299
15.4: Madelon Hooykaas and Elsa Stansfeld, Compass 1984 (Inside). Courtesy of the
artists. 299
15.5: Marty St. James and Anne Wilson, Te Actor (Neil Bartlett), 1990. Courtesy
of the artists. 300
15.6: Marty St. James, BoyGirlDiptych, 2000. Courtesy of the artist. 301
15.7: Chris Meigh-Andrews, Eau dArtifce, 1990. Courtesy of the artist. 302
15.8: Peter Campus, Interface, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 304
15.9: Peter Campus, Mem, 1974. Courtesy of the artist. 304
15.10: Peter Campus, Shadow Projection, 1975. Courtesy of the artist. 306
15.11: Peter Campus, Diagram for Kiva, 1971. Courtesy of the artist. 306
15.12: Tony Oursler, Judy, 1994. Courtesy of the artist and the Lisson Gallery, London. 308
16.1: Jeremy Welsh, I.O.D., 1984. Courtesy of the artist. 311
16.2: Jeremy Welsh, Refections, 1986. Courtesy of the artist. 311
16.3: Peter Callas working with the Fairlight CVI at Studio Marui, Tokyo, 1986.
Courtesy of the artist. 312
16.4: Clive Gillman, NLV, 1990. Courtesy of the artist. 313
16.5: Chris Meigh-Andrews, Mothlight, 1998. Courtesy of the artist. 315
16.6: Chris Meigh-Andrews, Perpetual Motion, 1994. Courtesy of the artist. 315
16.7: Malcolm Le Grice, Arbitrary Logic, 1986. Courtesy of the artist. 317
16.8: Vince Brifa, drawing of ciborium screen for Playing God, 2008. Courtesy
of the artist. 321
16.9: Vince Brifa, Playing God, 2008. Courtesy of the artist. 321
16.10: Simon Biggs, Alchemy, 1990. Courtesy of the artist. 322
16.11: Simon Biggs, Alchemy, 1990. Courtesy of the artist. 322
16.12: Susan Collins, Pedestrian Gestures, 1994. Courtesy of the artist. 323
16.13: Terry Flaxton, In Re Ansel Adams, 2008. Courtesy of the artist. 324
16.14: Annie Abrahams, Double Blind Love, 2009. Courtesy of the artist. 326
17.1: Andrew Demirjian, Scenes From Last Week (Display) 2011. Courtesy of
the artist. 334
17.2 Andrew Demirjian, Scenes From Last Week, 2011 (Location). Courtesy of the artist. 334
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George Barber, Tilt, 1984, Courtesy of the artist.
Steven Beck, Illuminated Music, 19723. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EIA),
New York. http://www.eia.org
Guy Ben-Ner, Wild Boy, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.
Vince Brifa, Playing God, 2008. Courtesy of the artist.
Robert Cahen, Juste le Temps, 1983. Courtesy of the artist.
Peter Campus, Passage at Bellport Harbor, 2010 and Fishing Boats at Shinnecock Bay,
2010. Courtesy of the artist.
Peter Donebauer, Merging-Emerging, 1978. Courtesy of the artist.
Duvet Brothers, Blue Monday, 1984, Courtesy of the artists.
Terry Flaxton, In Re Ansel Adams, 2008. Courtesy of the artist.
Clive Gilllman, NLV1, 1990. Courtesy of the artist.
Judith Goddard, Television Circle, 1987. Courtesy of the artist.
David Hall, A Situation Envisaged, the Rite 2, 198890. Courtesy of the artist.
Steve Hawley, Trout Descending a Staircase, 1990. Courtesy of the artist.
Takahiko Iimura, Interactive AIUEONN, installation at Harris Museum & Art
Gallery, Preston for Digital Aesthetic 2012. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph
Simon Critchley.
Stephen Jones, Stonehenge, 1978. Courtesy of the artist.
Malcolm le Grice, Even Cyclops Pays the Ferryman, 1998. Courtesy of the artist.
Mary Lucier, Four Mandalas, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.
Churchill Madikida, Virus, 2005. Courtesy of the artist.
Chris Meigh-Andrews, For William Henry Fox Talbot (the Pencil of Nature), 2002.
Courtesy of the artist.
Chris Meigh-Andrews, SunBeam, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
Richard Monkhouse, Images produced by the EMS Spectron, 1977. Courtesy of the artist.
Tony Oursler, Escort, 1997. Courtesy of the artist and the Lisson Gallery, London.
Nam June Paik, Zen for TV, 1961. Courtesy of Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH
Jacques Perconte, Impressions-Infnite, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.
Peter Callas, Nights High Noon, 1988. Courtesy of the artist.
Dan Reeves, Obsessive Becoming, 1995. Courtesy of the artist.
Dan Sandin: Live performance at Electronic Visualization Event 3, 1978. Courtesy of
the artist.
Eric Siegel, Einstine, 1968. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EIA), New York.
Steina, Summer Salt, 1982, Courtesy of the artist.
Marty St James and Anne Wilson, Te Swimmer, Duncan Goodhew, 1990. Courtesy of
the artists.
Studio Azzurro, Il Natatore, 1984. Courtesy of the artists.
Woody Vasulka, Art of Memory, 1987. Courtesy of the artist.
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Tis edition of A History of Video Art has developed directly out of the original
edition, frst published in 2006. In writing the original, I had wanted to try to provide
a guide to the background and genesis of artists video as I had experienced it, and this
is still the primary purpose of the book. Encountering artists video in the early 1970s
I became captivated and enthralled by the swiftly developing technology and the
challenging theoretical, cultural and political context, and inspired by the passionate
commitment of many artists to the communicative power and creative potential of
the medium.
In the early days video was perceived as a medium on the outside technically
inferior to flm, not suitable for broadcast, difcult to show in the gallery and yet
so clearly ofering something that other media did not or could not. Video had a
unique and compelling immediacy and with the introduction of the Portapak, its
instantly replayable image and sound made it ideal for personal experimentation. For
artists seeking new possibilities, video ofered something equivalent to an audio-visual
sketchbook, and additionally could be operated by a single person in just about any
location or situation. As portable video recorders and cameras become less expensive
and more reliable and as the image and sound quality improved and presentation
methods become more practical, its advantages and strengths become increasingly
obvious to those who had initially been sceptical even hostile to its potential.
Te frst edition of this book had grown out of my own experience with all of
this as a practicing artist and as one who was seeking to make sense of its complex
trajectory; both personally and as a teacher attempting to communicate these ideas
to other developing artists. My own early experience with artists video had been very
much a transatlantic one; meeting artists who worked with the medium in the 1970s
in the USA and Canada before coming to the UK to study and become involved in
the London video art community. I became aware of the personal networks of artists,
curators and activists involved and how these were crucial to the development of the
art form.
Te book began as PhD research into the context and background of my own art
practice and was completed in 2001 under the watchful and patient eye of AL Rees
at the Royal College of Art, with additional input, advice and encouragement from
Prof. Malcolm Le Grice. Te thesis was not in any sense suitable for publication and
developing it into something that might be of use to others took me nearly fve years.
(Although not all of that time was spent writing, as I was determined not to stop
making and exhibiting my own work!)
My own experience as an artist working with the medium across this period was
that the limitations and capabilities of the technology that I was able to access had
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had an impact on the ideas, content and form of the work I was able to make, as well
as on how it was perceived, and this was something I also observed in the work of
my colleagues and peers. Tese insights and observations have had an impact on my
approach to writing and structuring this book.
A History of Video Art is divided into three main sections: a discussion of the
historical and critical context in which artists video developed and evolved; an exami-
nation of some representative works in relation to both technical and critical context,
and a fnal section which attempts to examine artists video in relation to a period of
rapid technological change. I have retained this structure in the new edition because
it still seemed to ofer a way to organize a very complex and diverse set of concerns,
and I felt that this was still the best way to try to communicate and to initiate other
alternative approaches and investigations. I remain convinced that there is a need
for many parallel historical narratives in the history of any subject, and hence the
title remains A History of Video Art. Tis is simply one of many possible historical
surveys, and should be seen in this light. I wanted to encourage readers to engage in
the development of their own research and to form and develop their own under-
standing and perceptions, perhaps as a direct result of reading this book,
Tis new edition includes changes and corrections to errors and omissions present
in the frst edition and I would like to thank those artists and readers who have
made suggestions and pointed out mistakes and inaccuracies. Tis edition has been
expanded to include brief summaries of the development of the genre in a number
of countries Japan, Australia, China, India and Brazil as well as discussions of new
works by artists working in countries not previously covered, such as South Africa,
Brazil, Japan, Pakistan and Israel. Tese are of course simply examples, as there are
now many countries in which artists video is made and shown. I wanted, within the
limitations of the book to give a sense of the truly international scope of artists video,
and the way in which infuences and ideas have spread and interacted.
Writing this book has been a challenging, rewarding and enriching experience,
giving me greater insight into a medium that has fascinated me from the frst time I
picked up a Portapak in 1972. More importantly, it has given me the opportunity to
meet and engage with some of the most signifcant and insightful artists working in
the last part of the twentieth century and into the beginning of the new millennium.
Video as a medium has evolved and transformed some would argue that it has
been re-absorbed into a new rejuvenated notion of cinema, with a brief fowering
as a separate art form with its own unique trajectory. Tis may well be the case, but
however things unfold, I hope that this book will in some way help to inspire a new
generation of artists to explore and challenge creative frontiers and to develop moving
image culture into the next decade and beyond. As always it is crucial to know and
understand what has gone before, and to have a sense how what you are doing now
connects and builds upon it.
As with the frst edition, I would like to acknowledge the help and support of many
friends, artists and colleagues. In addition to those named in the frst edition they
include Michael Goldberg, Andr Parente, Peter Callas, Takahiko Iimura, Stephen
Jones, Shinsuke Ina, Warren Burt, Terry Flaxton, Peter Angelo Simon, Robert Cahen,
Peter Kennedy, Jozef Rabakowski, Beryl Korot, Jacques Perconte, Churchill Songezile
Madikida, Guy Ben-Ner, Andrew Demirjian, John Gillies, Dan Sandin, Steve Beck,
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Gary Willis, Vince Brifa, Itsuo Sakane, Lori Zippay, Sei Kazama, Hatsune Ohtsu
and Bani Abidi.
I would also like to thank Tristan Palmer, the editor of the frst edition at Berg and
Katie Gallof, the editor of the 2nd edition at Bloomsbury for their support, guidance
and advice at every key stage in the development of this book.
As ever, I would like to thank my wife Cinzia, whose love, support, advice and
encouragement have continued unabated, despite the increasing demands of her own
projects and commitments.Te second edition of this book is dedicated with afection
to my friends Steina and Woody Vasulka video pioneers and visionaries.
Chris Meigh-Andrews, Colchester, February 2013.
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As a result of the tools unprecedented usefulness, video conveys far too much
information to be counted among the traditional plastic arts. It supports
characteristics that would connect it more appropriately to the temporal arts
of music, dance, theater, literature or cinema. Nor is it a tangible object, and
fne art almost invariably is, but rather the ethereal emanation of a whole set
of complicated electro-magnetic devices. In fact, video is more an end than any
one specifc means; it is a series of electronic variations on an audio-visual theme
that has been in continual progressive fux since its inception. For the purposes
of art, videos theoretical and practical possibilities are so inconceivably vast, its
versatility so immeasurably profound and of such perplexing unorthodoxy, that
even after a quarter of a century, the mediums defenders are still struck with
vertiginous awe as if glimpsing the sublime.
Marc Meyer, Being & Time
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t h e o r i g i n s o f v i d e o a r t
Towards the end of the middle decade of the twentieth century, a perplexing and
complex art form emerged in Europe and the United States. Variously called video
art, artists video, experimental video, artists television, the new television even
Guerrilla TV. Te genre drew on a diverse range of art movements, theoretical
ideas, and technological advances, as well as political and social activism. In this
period of dynamic social, economical and cultural change, much new art was formally
and politically radical artists who took up working with video in this period were
highly infuenced by movements and ideas from Fluxism, Performance art, Body
art, Arte Povera, Pop Art, Minimalist sculpture, Conceptual Art, avant-garde music,
experimental flm, contemporary dance and theatre, and a diverse range of other
cross-disciplinary cultural activities and theoretical discourses.
Video art was also clearly an international phenomenon. From the outset artists
working with video have not only drawn from diverse cultural infuences, but they
have also imported ideas and attitudes across national boundaries, enriching and
nourishing the wider fne art practice as well as re-appropriating ideas and approaches
from other disciplines and media. Distinctive practices from one country have been
grafted onto another, so that in order to grasp the complex history of artists video
one must have an overview of the approaches and attitudes that have contributed to
the genre.
It will be seen that video art can itself be divided into a number of sub-genres
which reveal something of the hybrid nature of the art form, and where relevant, this
book will discuss and explore the numerous strands of this complex phenomenon.
Video arts relationship to broadcast television is especially problematic, since many
artists took up a position against it, and sought to change it, or to challenge the
cultural stereotypes and representations it depicted. Since both share a common
technology, especially in terms of how the fnal images and sounds are presented and
experienced, the relationship between artists video and broadcast TV is complex and
varied, and it is one of the central issues of this book.
In tracing a history of video art, I have chosen to examine the relationship between
developing and accessible video imaging technology and video as an art medium
and to discuss a representative selection of infuential and seminal works produced
by artists working in a number of diferent countries. Tis analysis does inevitably
involve both a historical and chronological approach, as the infuences and cross-
references of artists activities are cumulative, especially in relation to developing
technology and access to the production facilities and equipment. I have chosen to
trace the development of video art in relation to changes in technology because this
refects my own experience and involvement in the evolution of video art practice
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during the period under discussion. Clearly this approach is not without its problems,
but it is undeniable that video as a medium is technology-dependent, and I believe
that any history of artists video must acknowledge the part played by issues of access
to the technological means of production on the development of its form and in
relation to the cultural context. It seems important to stress however that I do not use
these technological developments as a system or method of analyzing content, but as a
method of structuring a chronology and categorizing approaches and themes explored
by artists that helped to shape and unlock issues relating to content, representation
and meaning.
During the period under discussion (from about 1960) there has been an extraor-
dinarily rapid development in electronic and digital imaging technology. Advances
in the feld have transformed video from an expensive specialist tool exclusively
in the hands of broadcasters, large corporations and institutions into a ubiquitous
and commonplace consumer product. In this period video art has emerged from a
marginal activity to become arguably the most infuential medium in contemporary
Video recording equipment generally available to the artist in the late 1960s and
early 1970s was cumbersome, expensive and unreliable. Tese early low-gauge
videotape recordings were grainy, low-contrast black-and-white. Editing was crude
and inaccurate, with an end result that was considered by many, especially broad-
casters, entirely unsuitable for television. Tis situation had completely changed by
the mid to late 1980s artists had regular access to lightweight and portable colour
video camera/recorders capable of producing near broadcast-quality images and
frame-accurate multi-machine non-linear editing with real-time digital efects. Tis
technological transformation, fuelled by the demands of the consumer market and
converging computer technology, has had a considerable impact on the visual culture
generally, as well as on broadcast television and particularly on contemporary art and
culture. Tis period of rapid technological change has also naturally had a marked
efect on the kind of screen-based works and installations produced by artists. In
identifying the crucial relationship between this technological change and video art,
American writer and critic Marita Sturken puts it succinctly:
In a medium heavily dependent on technology, these changes ultimately become
aesthetic changes. Artists can only express something visually according to the
limits of a given mediums technology. With every new technique or efect, such
as slow motion or frame-accurate editing, attempts have been made to use these
efects for specifc aesthetic results. Te aesthetic changes in video, irrevocably
tied to changes in its technology, consequently evolved at an equally accelerated
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pace. For instance, within a short period of time, digital imaging and frame-
accurate rapid editing have replaced real time as the most prevalent aesthetic
styles. Whereas in 1975 it was still standard fare to produce a tape in real time,
by 1982 it had become (when rarely used) a formal statement.
Tis approach to an understanding of the evolution of video art via the development
of technology is potentially contentious. Indeed, the very notion of a history of video
art is itself problematic. Artists video is a comparatively new activity the frst video
works to be clearly identifed and labelled as art were produced in the late 1960s,
and artists and curators anxious to identify the new cultural form have tried to defne
a canon with little success. Te art form itself seems paradoxically to defy the activity
of classifcation whilst simultaneously requiring it.
Te terms artists video and video art are both themselves increasingly troublesome,
and with the phenomenon of converging electronic media with the rise and spread
of digital technology, these labels are often ascribed to any kind of moving image art
practice, regardless of the original format or source material. Video Art is now often
used as a way to describe and identify any moving image work presented within an art
gallery context and this is particularly the case when the work in question is displayed
on multiple screens. During the 1990s the term began to be used interchangeably
with artists flm, and this was at least partly because of the improvements in the
quality and availability of video projection equipment, and even more recently, the
development of large, fat screen LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and plasma screens,
and the accessibility of high-defnition recording and playback formats. Within the
contemporary context, there is a tendency for all types of artists flm and video to
be considered a sub-genre of cinema, although curiously, the label video artist is not
uncommon, even preferred by gallerists, curators and the public.
Art works recorded onto videotape (or, more recently, disc and computer hard
drives) are by nature ephemeral many early video formats are either no longer
playable, or are obsolete pioneering and historically signifcant videotapes are deteri-
orating rapidly and many are already lost or irretrievable. Tis is not only a problem
limited to recorded works once a video installation has been exhibited and disas-
sembled, only the documentation remains to attest to the works former existence. Te
rapid introduction of new and more sophisticated formats and recording and display
systems also present the artist and curator (and potential collectors and archivists)
with considerable dilemmas relating to the presentation and exhibition of historical
work designed to operate with obsolete and defunct technological hardware, and this
is an especially acute issue with much medium-specifc work in the so-called post-
medium period.
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Tis book also contains chapters devoted to developments in experimental music
and avant-garde flm practice as these felds overlap with the development of video art,
and since both also precede the development of video, ofer important insights into
the relationship and infuences between developing technology and cultural form. It
is also undeniable that artists often chose to work across and between conventional
media and genre boundaries, many deliberately refusing to be categorized or typecast
as flmmakers, photographers, sculptors, painters or composers and especially not
as video artists!
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Te impermanent and ephemeral nature of the video medium was considered a
virtue by many early practitioners: artists who wished to avoid the infuences and
commercialism of the art market were attracted to this temporary and transient
nature working live could in itself be a political and artistic statement. But the
impermanent nature of the video medium demands some kind of record, and it
seems likely that written histories such as this one will eventually be all that remains.
Tis of course means that many important works will inevitably be written out of
history; lost, marginalized or ignored especially those works which do not ft with
current notions or defnitions. Te history of video art, unlike the history of painting
and sculpture, cannot be rewritten with reference to seminal or canonical works
especially once those works have disappeared. It is also obvious that videotapes not
considered signifcant are unlikely to be preserved, archived or restored.
Te development of video as a medium of communication has been, and remains,
heavily dependent on technology, and the activity of artists video is inevitably as
dependent on the same technological advances. Parallel to this development is the
question and issue of accessibility. In general, as video technology has advanced,
relative production costs have decreased. Te equipment itself has also become
increasingly reliable, more compact, less costly and more readily available. It is also
important to point out that the design and function of that equipment is not without
its own bias, in the sense that electronic engineers are rarely themselves end-users.
Tis bias may well include (or certainly extends towards) the ideological, and in this
sense we get the tools that we are given, rather, than necessarily, the tools we might
want, even supposing we knew what they were or might be. Tis book includes
material on artist/engineers innovators who sought to build technological tools to
suit their own particular aesthetic and creative requirements.
Technological developments in the related felds of broadcast television, consumer
electronics, computer hardware and software, mobile telephones, video surveillance,
the Internet, and more specialized imaging technologies such as thermal imaging,
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), etc. have all had an infuence on the devel-
oping aesthetics of video art. Changes in technology, reliability, miniaturization
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and advances in electronic imaging systems, synchronization and computer control
devices have also infuenced the potential for video installation and image display.
Video projection is now commonplace, computer-controlled systems for multi-
machine synchronization during playback, Digital Versatile Disk (DVD) players and
hard drives have made multi-screen and interactive presentations and continuous
replay reliable and practicable.
In the last decade the widespread use of mobile phones with the incorporation
video-imaging devices has had an increasingly profound impact on moving image
culture, particularly in tandem with the rise of the Internet, video streaming and
social networking. It has become commonplace to be able to post images and video
clips on-line, or connect a web cam sharing and downloading picture and sound
anywhere, and at any time. Editing and image-processing software has also become
much more available and easier to use. Tis sea change in the way that moving image
culture can be produced, accessed, experienced and disseminated has had a powerful
impact on the public perception of artists video, and on the way artists themselves
use and communicate with the medium.
Clearly, this technology-dependent relationship is especially problematic in relation
to any art historical analysis, not least because of the confusions that arise from issues
of modernism and modernity in fne art discourse. A discussion of videos inherent
properties has been the predominant method of tracing the mediums history and
this is revealing of a fundamental problem in any analysis of the relationship between
Western cultural creativity and technology. American writer and critic Marita Sturken
points out that early video artists explored the specifc properties of video not only in
order to distinguish it from other fne art media such as flm, painting and sculpture,
but because these properties also had much in common with other concerns of the
period especially those of Conceptual Art, minimal sculpture and performance.
Video artist and writer Stuart Marshall (194993, UK) claimed there was nothing
inevitable about (British) video art practices entanglement with late modernism. Te
availability of portable video technology was co-incidental with a period when radical
strategies such as alternative exhibition spaces and hybrid practices had become a
signifcant aspect of avant-garde activity. Te infuence of experimental and avant-
garde cinema on video art practice is especially signifcant, and Marshall identifed
the role played by experimental flmmakers as a model for early video artists with
respect to production funding, distribution and organizational issues. He also linked
the development of video art in the UK to its association with the art school.
As a direct consequence of this institutional dependency on funding from agencies
such as the Arts Council of Great Britain and regional arts associations, and for access
to equipment and facilities from art school media departments, video art in the UK
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was brought into direct competition with the more established media of painting and
sculpture. Tus Marshall linked the development of a modernist video art practice to
a strategy for survival:
If, therefore, video were to develop a modernist practice it would stand on
equal footing with other traditional art practices. At the same time, however, it
would have the advantage of being recognised in its specifcity as a result of the
modernist concern with the foregrounding of the inherent properties of the
David Hall (1937, UK) was one of the frst video artists in the UK to identify
his practice with this approach. In his infuential essay Towards an Autonomous
Practice, Hall set out his position. Trained as a sculptor, he worked with photography
and flm before taking up video. He was not interested in work which used video,
but rather works which foregrounded video as the artwork, and in his writings he was
most concerned to distinguish video art practice from television:
Video as art seeks to explore perceptual thresholds, to expand and in part to
decipher the conditioned expectations of those narrow conventions understood
as television. In this context it is pertinent to recognize certain fundamental
properties and characteristics which constitute the form. Notably those peculiar
to the functions (and malfunctions) of the constituent hardware camera,
recorder and monitor and the artists accountability to them.
Halls position as the pre-eminent artist working in video in the UK during the
mid-1970s was considerable, with an infuence that was exerted not only because of
his own rigorous and uncompromising video work, but also via his critical writing
and his campaigning for the acceptance of video as a medium for art. Halls own
work sought to explore notions about the relationship of video technology to the
institution of broadcast television, and he acknowledged the role of developing
technology on video art in a short essay for the 1989 Video Positive festival catalogue:
developing technology has undoubtedly infuenced the nature of the
product at all levels and wherever it is made. Tese developments have inevi-
tably afected aesthetic criteria as well as making life easier. In the early days
of basic black and white Portapaks, extremely limited editing facilities, and
no special efects, the tendency was towards fairly minimal but nevertheless
profound pioneering work. Tis was necessary and appropriate at a time when
concerns were generated in part by reductive and cerebral preoccupations. If
it can be said that now, in this so-called post-modernist phase, an inclination
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has developed towards more visually complex, even baroque artwork, then the
timely expansion of technical possibilities in video allows for greater image
manipulation. Te dangers are that as the gap has gradually closed between the
technology available to the artist and that used by for instance TV companies,
temptations inevitably arise to indulge in what is often only slick and superfcial
electronic wizardry. Te medium here indeed becomes the message. Conversely
the current availability of complex studio mixers, time-base correctors, multi-
machine editing, paint boxesand other dedicated computers can provide
(with due caution for their many seductions) a very sophisticated palette incon-
ceivable twenty years ago.
Although an approach to working with video through an examination of the
mediums unique qualities was the dominant position of artists during the early
period, the attraction of the establishment of these inherent properties as signifcant
was not limited to practitioners. It was also especially attractive to those curators
and historians who wished to validate the medium in a fne art context. For Marita
Sturken this problematic relationship between technology and art is one of the
principal causes for both the comparatively immature state of video theory and the
troublesome relationship to an historical context.
Broadcasters with an interest in innovative television took note of video artists
examination of the medium, but only insofar as these activities could be seen to
form an experimental advance guard for new techniques to be plundered by the
media. British TV producer John Wyver is critical of any treatment of video art as
a separate category and argues for a history of convergence, based on a notion of
the digital. He points out that the period when it was necessary to argue a special
case for video art because of its lack of broadcast airtime, poor funding and gallery
exposure has long passed: concentration on video as video cuts the forms of
video creation of from the rest of an increasingly dynamic and richly varied moving
image culture.
But questions of context and defnitions of video art often seem more of a problem
for the critic than for the artist. Many artists who took up video in the early 1970s
were attracted to the medium precisely because it did not have either a history or an
identifable critical discourse as an art medium. American writer David A Ross saw
this lack of a critical position as a Pure delight . Video was the solution because
it had no tradition. It was the precise opposite of painting. It had no formal burdens
at all.
Feminist artists were attracted to the medium for similar reasons. Shigeko Kubota
(1937, Japan) Japanese/American video artist (and wife of video pioneer Nam June
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Paik see below) claimed in the mid-1970s Video is Vengeance of Vagina. Video is
Victory of Vagina, championing video and claiming the new medium for women:
I travel alone with my Portapak on my back, as Vietnamese women do with
their babies
I like video because it is heavy.
Portapak and I travelled over Europe, Navajo land, and Japan without male
accompany [sic]
Portapak tears down my shoulder, backbone and waist.
I feel like a Soviet woman, working on the Siberian Railway.
Tese statements identifed Kubotas claim for video as a medium empowering
women and enabling them to attain recognition that many felt would not be possible
via the more traditional and male-dominated disciplines of painting and sculpture.
Whilst it is clearly the case that many feminist artists were initially attracted to
video because of its lack of a history, by its immediacy, and by its less commodifable
nature, these same attributes were also appealing to male artists with comparable
counter-cultural, subversive and radical agendas. By the mid-1970s video artists had
developed a variety of strategies and approaches to video bound up with the particu-
larities of a new and developing medium. Te short history of video art, which began
in the early 1960s with work by two artists working in Germany, has its early roots
in a radical anti-art movement called Fluxus.
American writer and curator John Hanhardt argues that video art in the United States
has been formed by two issues: its opposition to commercial television and the inter-
textual fne art practices of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Hanhardt also identifes
the introduction of the Sony Portapak in 19678, as a key event, placing the tools of
the medium in the hands of the artist, but also indicates that the pre-1965 activities
of artists Nam June Paik (1932, Korea to 2006, USA) and Wolf Vostell (193298,
Germany) in appropriating the television apparatus and presenting the domestic TV
set as iconic, were crucial to the establishing of video art as discourse, and infuential
on subsequent generations of video artists.
Both Paik and Vostell were connected to the Fluxus movement, a loosely defned
international group of artists interested in debunking the art establishment and other
cultural institutions. Drawing on earlier so-called anti-art movements including
Dadaism, the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp (18871968, France), and highly
infuenced by the chance operations employed by the American composer John Cage
(191292, USA), Fluxism fourished from the late 1950s into the early 1970s, and
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was infuential on the development of Conceptual Art. Fluxus artists produced ironic
and subversive work that was deliberately difcult to assimilate, often organizing live
events or happenings critical of materialism and consumerism (see Chapter 5 for
further discussion of Fluxus and its relationship to experimental music).
John Hanhardt argues that through the adopting of collage techniques Vostell and
Paik overlapped media technologies and strategies, engaging in a blurring of categories
that established a dialogue between artists. Te Paik-Vostell strategy of removing the
domestic television from its usual setting and incorporating it into performances and
installations subverted it as an institution and underlined its role in shaping opinion
and producing cultural stereotypes. For Hanhardt, Paik and Vostells activities broke
frame, violating the social and cultural frame of reference.
In Television d-Collage (1961) Wolf Vostell suggested distorting the TV image
using random interference to the broadcast images of television receivers installed in
a Paris department store. Tus Vostells d-Collage techniques employed the use of
public spaces. Traditionally d-Collage employed a reversal of the more conventional
collage technique by erasing, removing and tearing of elements of texts, images and
information to reveal and create new combinations. Vostell described d-Collage TV
TV Picture De-Formation
magnetic zones
Hanhardt posits that all forms of video art screen-based work and installation,
can be understood as collage because of the way in which the electronic processing,
layering and mixing of images and sounds is an inherent aspect of video technology,
including the image display and viewing condition:
Strategies of image processing and recombination evoke a new visual
language from the multi-textual resources of international culture. Te
spectacular history of the expanded forms of video installation can be seen
as an extension of the techniques of collage into the temporal and spatial
dimensions provided by video monitors placed in an inter-textual dialogue
with other materials.
Nam June Paik is considered by many to be the seminal fgure in the emergence
of video art. Te range of his work with video covers most of the categories within
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the genre: installation, live performance and broadcast, as well as single and multi-
channel works. It is instructive to trace the development of his approach to working
with the apparatus of television, drawing most signifcantly from the ideas and
pioneering attitudes of John Cage.
Prior to working with the television set as a cultural object, Paiks activities were
within the feld of avant-garde music. After studying aesthetics, music and art history
at the University of Tokyo, Paik went to Germany. Initially enrolling on a music
history course in Munich, Paik soon switched to the study of musical composition
under Wolfgang Fortner (190787, Germany) at the Academy of Music in Freiburg.
During this period Paiks fascination with sound collage techniques and the use of
audio recordings as a basis for musical composition emerged. On advice from Fortner,
Paik went to work in the electronic sound studio of WDR, the West German Radio
station in Cologne in 1959. By this time, Te WDR studio had become a major
centre for contemporary music, producing and broadcasting works by new inter-
national composers such as Cornelius Cardew, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gyorgy
Ligeti (see Chapter 4). Whilst working there, Paik came into contact with a number
of these composers, himself becoming part of the German avant-garde music scene.
Even more signifcantly, it was during this formative period that Paik encountered the
ideas and music of John Cage.
Initially, Paik was attracted to Cage because of his acknowledgement of the Zen
Buddhist infuence through the teachings of D. T. Suzuki, but it was Cages attitude
to musical composition and his notions about the liberation of pure sound from
musical convention that helped to free Paik from his veneration of the traditions of
Western music:
I went to see the music (of Cage) with a very cynical mind, to see what
Americans would do with oriental heritage. In the middle of the concert slowly,
slowly I got turned on. At the end of the concert I was a completely diferent
In relation to Cages agenda for the liberation of sound, Paiks avowed intention
became to go a stage further, with musical performances calculated to irritate
and shock his audience. Describing one particular Paik performance of the time,
composer and writer Michael Nyman quotes Fluxus artist Al Hansen:
[Paik would] move through the intermission lobby of a theatre, cutting mens
neckties of with scissors, slicing coats down the back with a razor blade and
squirting shaving cream on top of their heads.
In Homage to John Cage (1959) Paik even performed these anarchistic and provocative
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actions on Cage himself.
Cage describes one particularly harrowing performance
that took place in the Cologne apartment of Mary Bauermeister (music student and
later, second wife of Stockhausen):
Nam June Paik suddenly approached me, cut of my tie and began to shred my
clothes, as if to rip them of. [Paik then poured a bottle of shampoo over Cages
head] Just behind him, there was an open window with a drop of perhaps six
foors to the street, and everyone suddenly had the impression that he was going
to throw himself out.
Instead Paik strode from the room, leaving all present frozen and speechless with
terror. A few minutes later the telephone rang; it was Paik announcing that the perfor-
mance of the Homage to John Cage was over.
By 1959 Paiks compositions were built of a combination of audio tape collage and
live action performance activities such as smashing eggs or glass, and most signif-
cantly, overturning a piano. Paiks symbolic destructive acts were a way of signifying
a break with convention and a rebellion against the representatives of the musical
status quo.
Te piano, symbolic of traditional values in Western music, was the ideal
technological object:
Paiks musical education bore the imprint of a wholehearted admiration for
European music. Terefore one can assume that he had a stronger awareness of
the cultural signifcance of the piano than the European who, more often than
not, is indiferent to his own traditions.
Paiks frst solo exhibition was at Rolf Jahrlings Galerie Parnass, in Wuppertal,
Germany during March 1963. For several months prior to this exhibition Paik had
been secretly experimenting with television sets in an attic space rented separately
from his main studio. Paik felt this secrecy necessary because he was particularly
wary of criticism, and nervous that other artists would prematurely take up his ideas.
Working occasionally with an electronics engineer, Paik set to work modifying the
circuitry of a number of television receivers literally making prepared televisions,
perhaps drawing on the idea of Cages prepared pianos.
In an interview with American video artist and writer Douglas Davis, Paik
explained how this came about, sketching out the background and describing some
of the modifcations he made:
If you work every day in a radio station, as I did in Cologne, the same place where
television people are working, if you work with all kinds of electronic equipment
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producing sound, its natural that you think that the same thing might apply to
video . I developed the horizontal modulation, that stretches the faces, and
also vertical modulation, which Ive never been able to reproduce on American
television sets for some reason. I hadnt thought of the magnet at that time, but
I was working with sync pulses that warped the picture with sound waves. I also
made negative TV, a set in which the blacks and whites were reversed; the picture
was without sync too, so that it just foated across the screen, always in motion.
I made a set with a microphone so that when you talked, the TV line moved .
A number of the sets you could change by playing with the dials.
For his exhibition at Galerie Parnass Paik extended an idea previously explored for
his 1961 exhibition Symphony for 20 Rooms. In Exposition of Music-Electronic
Television Paik exhibited a range of musical and visual objects throughout the rooms
and gardens of the gallery. Among the objects on display, which ranged from prepared
pianos to modifed record players and tape recorders (all of which demonstrated the
infuence of John Cage) were the modifed television sets.
Scattered across the foor in one room within the gallery, all the televisions were
tuned to the same frequency. Although displaying the same broadcast, the TV
pictures had been electronically modifed in diferent ways two were not working
properly, presumably damaged in transit,
and the remaining ten were arranged into
three groups. Te TV broadcast pictures were distorted to present abstract image
forms, in some cases by introducing audio signals into the modifed picture display
either from a radio or microphone as described above.
Paiks notion of random access, drawn from computer terminology, was important
both to the overall concept of the exhibition and to his appropriation of television sets
in this context. Temes of randomness and arbitrariness were important at this time
to avant-garde composers such as Cage and Stockhausen, and to the Fluxus group
of which Paik was a founder member and a major force. In his exhibition at Galerie
Parnass Paik was concerned to create participatory works, with images and efects
produced directly through the engagement and actions of the audience. His use of
the television sets in this context was intended to reverse the usually passive mode of
the viewer-television relationship:
Paik was exploring the technical possibilities of the medium with the goal of
cancelling out its one-directional character and creating further possibilities of
intervention. He provoked the creation of a new aesthetic of the distorted picture
by transforming the normal process of recorded images, the aim of which was to
be distortion free. As with most of his other exhibits involving various media, he
tried to involve televisions in his concept of audience participation.
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Paiks prepared televisions had clearly drawn inspiration from Cages prepared pianos,
but Cages 1951 composition Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (which co-incidentally used
twelve live radios), was also a direct and signifcant infuence.
Imaginary Landscape No. 4, a four-minute piece for twelve radios, featured two
players at each one to control the tuning, the other to adjust the tone and volume.
Cages intention had been to further liberate the compositional process from aspects
of personal taste after a challenge from Henry Cowell who claimed that Music of
Changes was not free of personal preferences.
In 1949, Cage had written: a piece for
radios as instruments would give up the matter of method to accident.
Although the infuence of Cage is clear, Paiks appropriation of the domestic
television set as cultural icon could be seen to extend Cages use of the radio in works
such as Imaginary Landscape No. 4 because of the participatory aspects outlined
1:1 Nam June Paik, Family of Robot: Grandmother and Grandfather, 1986. Courtesy of the artist and
Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo by Carl Kowal.
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Whilst the potential of musical experiences beyond the concert hall were
important to Cage, in Imaginary Landscape No. 4 the audience experience is still
predominately passive. Paik extended this participatory aspect through his appro-
priation of the television set: [building] on the active personal experience of the
Nam June Paiks Exposition of Music-Electronic Television is an important event
in any history of the genre and is widely acknowledged as the frst exhibition to
present television as a medium for art. Paiks work is signifcant in that it engaged
directly with the available (and accessible) technology, challenging the established
one-way process of broadcast television via a series of individual technical manipula-
tions. Drawing on infuences from experimental sound collage and electronic music,
and directly from the example of John Cage, Paiks prepared TV sets paved the way
for a new electronically based art form, simultaneously critiquing and subverting
existing communication technology. (For further discussion of the work of John
Cage, see Chapter 5.)
In a critique of what she termed the sanctifcation of Nam June Paik as the
father of video art, the American video artist and writer Martha Rosler suggests
that his Fluxus strategy of the importation of the television set into the art world
anesthetized its domestic function simply producing an anti-art art. Rosler is
critical of Paiks position as a mythical fgure, claiming that his activities did not
advance the cause of a radical video art but simply reinforced the dominant social
discourse of the day:
He neither analyzed TV messages or efects, nor provided a counter discourse
based on rational exchange, nor made its technology available to others. He gave
us an upscale symphony of the most pervasive cultural entity of everyday life,
without giving us any conceptual or other means of coming to grips with it in
anything other than a symbolically displaced form.
American video artist Woody Vasulka identifed Paiks ambition for video art as one
dedicated to elevating the genre to be of equal status to painting or sculpture, and it
became a crusade that was increasingly tied in to his own ambitions as an artist.
(Paik) would always take famous people if he could the more famous, the more
desirable. He was the shadow of everybody: McLuhan or Cage, or Nixon. You
actually could see the efort of taking the established codes, putting them on
television, destroying or altering them by the prescription of, lets say, Fluxus.
So there was this anti-bourgeois efort Paik was caught in the middle of this
transition because as he says openly: as music became electronic, and then art
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and eventually high art in the same way television the electronic image,
will eventually become material for high art. Tis was his struggle to achieve
high art at any price. Tis meant that he would violate any of the rules the
rejection of the popular, of the bourgeois, of the successful. But I think he had
no strategy for this. As a man coming from the Orient, success is a condition for
the defnition of your signifcance. He fought it at times, but eventually settled to
this notion that if he was not famous, or at least a famous Korean or Asian, then
he had failed. So he carried this huge baggage of playing this specifc role and
he became the frst internationalist.
Paik is not only signifcant because of his position as one of the frst artists to seriously
address crucial issues about the relationship between television and video, but also
for his pioneering explorations of the potential of video as an art form via a wide
range of approaches which include installation, broadcasting, live events and gallery
screenings, as well his championing of the cause for the funding of video art in the
United States. He was also instrumental in the setting up of artists access to advanced
production facilities such as the television workshop at WNET in New York. Te
development of his video synthesizer with electronic engineer Shuya Abe in 1969 is
also a considerable achievement (see Chapter 7), as was his well-documented early
use of the Sony Portapak.
Mythology surrounding the origins of video art present the apocryphal story of Nam
June Paiks purchase of the frst commercially available -inch portable video recorder
a Sony Portapak at the Liberty Music shop on Madison Ave for $1,000 and his frst
use of it to record images of the Popes visit to New York City, recorded from the back
of a taxi, and shown that very evening at the Cafe Au Go-Go at 152 Bleecker Street
in Greenwich Village, 4 October 1965.
Tis event, combined with Paiks 1963
exhibition at Galeri Parnass, has cemented Paiks reputation as the founding father
of video art. What is clear is that Paik, with a grant from the John D. Rockefeller III
fund, purchased one of the earliest Sony Portapaks available in the United States and
made and showed his frst recording that evening.
In a statement produced for the screenings (4 October and 11 October) presented
as a preview to his November exhibition at Gallery Bonnino, Paik presented a brief
manifesto of predictions for the new video medium:
In my videotaped electric vision, not only you see your picture instantaneously
and fnd out what kind of bad habits you have, but see yourself deformed in 12
ways, which only electronic ways can do.
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*It is the historical necessity, if there is a historical necessity in history, that a new
decade of electronic television should follow the past decade of electronic music.
** Variability & Indeterminism is underdeveloped in optical art as parameter Sex
is underdeveloped in music.
*** As collage technic [sic] replaced oil paint, the cathode ray tube will replace
the canvas.
****Someday artists will work with capacitors, resistors & semi-conductors as
they work today with brushes, violins & junk.
For many critics and video art historians, these events were critical utopian
moments. Te newly available and relatively inexpensive portable video recorder
clearly empowered artists, politically active individuals and groups to fght back
against the corporate monopoly one-way broadcast television system.
Nam June Paiks frequently quoted slogan TV has been attacking us all our lives
now we can attack it back has an important place in all this. Artists found the
1.2: Sony AV 3400 Portapak, 1986. Courtesy of Richard Diehl, http://www.labguysworld.com
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Portapaks accessibility, its instantaneity, the available light capabilities of the camera,
and the grainy, low-resolution grittiness of the monochrome image it produced very
appealing. But there were a number of other signifcant factors besides the intro-
duction of cheap portable video recording equipment and the state of broadcast TV
to the genesis of video art.
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Te earliest examples of so-called television art were produced in Germany by Gerry
Schums pioneering Fernsehgalerie (Television Gallery) in a specially commissioned
TV programme entitled Land Art broadcast nationally from Berlin on 15 April 1969
at 10.40 p.m. Land Art comprised eight specially commissioned works by interna-
tional conceptual artists including Richard Long, Jan Dibbets, and Robert Smithson.
Tis innovative frst broadcast was followed on 18 November in the same year when
Schums TV Gallery transmitted Keith Arnatts TV Project Self Burial, as a television
intervention on WDR II (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) Cologne.
Gerry Schum (193873, Germany) studied flmmaking at the Deutsche Film
und Fernsehakademie in Berlin 19667. Whilst in the second year of his studies he
was commissioned to make a fve-minute report of Schaustucke Ereignissei Feur, Luft,
Wasser und Erde aus Kunstof, a Fluxus Happening staged by artist Bernhard Hoke at
the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts (Akademie der Kunste). Schums intention with his
flm of this event, subsequently broadcast on SFB Sender Freies Berlin (Broadcaster
of Free Berlin) 30 March 1967, was not merely documentation, but the creation of a
televisual equivalent to parallel this complex art event.
Tis approach to Hokes event
was characteristic of Schums flm work with artists on subsequent broadcast projects
such as a feature on the 6th San Marino Art Biennale and Konsumkunst-Kunstkonsum
(Consumption Art-Art Consumption) both made for WDR, Cologne.
In partnership with the artist Bernhard Hoke and his frst wife Hannah Weitemeier,
Schum developed a collaborative approach in which the interaction between the
subject of the broadcast and the flmmaking process was a crucial element in the
fnal product. Tis approach was very much in line with the prevailing attitude of
the most progressive contemporary artists of the period the very work that Schum
and his collaborators were presenting. New industrial processes and techniques were
being adopted by contemporary artists in a desire to challenge conventional notions
about art which were bound up with issues of authorship and originality. New ideas
about the making and experiencing of art which were current at the time included
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the making and selling of low-cost art multiples, Fluxus and multi-disciplinary events,
process art, Arte Povera, minimalism and Conceptual Art. Unique static object-
based artworks had given way to transitory and ephemeral works, which could be
site-specifc and/or performance based. Many progressive artists were concerned to
explore venues for art outside of the conventional neutral gallery environment, using
techniques and materials which had not traditionally been used to make art. Schums
work at this time began to explore the notion and potential of television as a medium
for the direct experience of art, rather than simply for the presentation of documen-
taries about art. For example in Konsumkunst-Kunstkonsum Schum presented the
German artist Heinz Mack describing his idea for a series of works exclusively for
I intend to do an exhibition that is no longer held in a museum, that is no longer
held in a gallery, but appears only once exclusively on television. All objects that
I will be showing in this exhibition can only be made known to the public via
the television and then will be destroyed by me.
Following the production of Konsumkunst-Kunstkonsum Schum established
Fersehgalerie Gerry Schum (Television Gallery Gerry Schum) and began working with
a new partner, Ursula Wevers, who would soon become his second wife. Developing
ideas from his previous broadcasts, Schum and Wevers conceived Land Art, a series
of short flms of works by eight international conceptual artists who worked directly
in the landscape Richard Long, Barry Flanagan, Dennis Oppenhiem, Robert
Smithson, Marinus Boezem, Jan Dibbets, Walter De Maria and Michael Heizer.
Schum had conceived of the broadcasting of these works as autonomous art events:
his intention was to show only art objects, with no explanation, committed to the
idea that artists should develop an approach in which a new kind of art object would
be directly communicable via broadcast TV.
Schum had understood the unexplored potential of the works that these artists
were making and their suitability for an entirely new approach to the experience
of art. He sought out artists who could make art especially for TV, realizing that
television broadcasting could provide the missing temporal element to process-
based art, removing the material art object and freeing up the spectator to a direct
encounter with the work. Schums clearly stated his aim and purpose in a letter to
Gene Youngblood: all objects transmitted during the show of the Fernsehgalerie
are specially created for the reproduction by the medium of TV. Te only way of
communication is the transmission by the TV station.
One of the most innovative artworks in Land Art was Richard Longs (1945, UK)
Walking a Straight Ten Mile Line. Schum believed Longs contribution:
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created the most consequent object in the Land Art show. To mark his ten
mile line he used neither chalk nor digged [sic] a trench. Only the camera flmed
every half mile six seconds of landscape shooting in the direction he walked.
Long himself was out of the camera frame.
Longs work is portrayed in a six-minute flm in which the spectator is presented
with a direct experience of the making of the work within the landscape, via series
of discontinuous zooming sequences each lasting 6 seconds, flmed at half-mile
intervals. Although the work was shot on 16mm flm: for Schum it was the broad-
casting of this work that was the signifcant act. Land Art was conceived of as a live
transmission of the art object, in which the spectators perceptual experience of the
work is in the here-and-now of the present. Schum sought to enable the viewer to
engage in a critical detachment in which the television set itself could be simultane-
ously perceived as both a support structure for the image and as a manifestation of
the work itself. Te television was thus alternately both present and absent. Because
of the minimal interventions of the flmmaking process that Schum imposed in
the production of the works in Land Art, the spectators attention could be focused
directly on the functioning of the conceptions and actions of the artist and his/her
engagement with the art activity.
Te Land Art programme was also screened in a number of conventional gallery
venues. In 1968 it was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London
as part of an important touring exhibition When Attitudes Become Form, and it was
whilst there that Gerry Schum met the British artist Keith Arnatt (19302008, UK).
Keith Arnatts Self Burial was originally constituted as a sequence of nine photo-
graphs called Te Disappearance of the Artist. In discussions with the artist John
Latham (1921, Rhodesia2006, UK), Arnatt subsequently developed the idea into a
TV project in which each of the nine images would appear very briefy in the middle
of a normal TV broadcast. Arnatt and Latham had previously approached the BBC,
who though interested, had declined the project. Following discussions between
Arnatt and Schum at the ICA it was arranged to have the work broadcast on WDR
in Cologne.
Self Burial was broadcast over eight consecutive nights at 8:15 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.,
when normal programmes were briefy interrupted and two images from the series
were fashed onto the screen without any prior warning or introduction. Initially the
interventions were for a duration of 2.5 seconds, but from 13 October they were
increased to 4 seconds. On the fnal day of the project Arnatt was interviewed on
a live television broadcast from the Cologne Arts Fair, his explanation of the work
interrupted by his own images.
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Between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, 1969, WDR 3 broadcast another
Television Gallery Gerry Schum intervention project when TV as a Fireplace, by Jan
Dibbets (1941, the Netherlands) was screened at the end of each evenings trans-
mission. Images of an open fre, in a sequence which develops from a small fame into
a blazing fre and fnally dwindles to glowing embers, were shown for 2:45 minutes
each evening over eight consecutive nights for a total of 23 minutes. Although only
broadcast locally, TV as a Fireplace was infuential, widely copied and often cited as
representative of Schums overall project.
Schum began developing ideas for a new TV gallery broadcast to be called
Artscapes intending to extend the scope of the ideas behind the notion of gallery
spaces or environments available via conventional exhibition venues. Artscapes were
to be seen as spaces totally dedicated to art, going beyond the concrete space with
the media of photography, flm and television contributing decisively to their design.
Te notion behind Artscapes was to exploit the various technical processes available
via the broadcast medium in order to transform the natural and cultural landscapes
(the actual environment) creating art landscapes. Tese transformations would be
accomplished with a combination of flm production techniques including slow and
fast motion, the combining of real objects and models, and the use of macro photog-
raphy. Schum sought to remove the separation of the art event and the medium of
TV, seeking to create a similar situation for the visual arts to that of literature or
music, believing that this approach would have the potential to reach a wider public.
Although the Artscapes project was never realized, a second television exhibition
entitled Identifcations was broadcast on Sudwestfunk Baden-Baden (SWF) in
November 1970, featuring the work of 20 contemporary artists including Joseph
Beuys, Klaus Rinke, Hamish Fulton, Gilbert and George, Alighiero Boetti, Mario
Merz and Richard Serra.
Te artworks broadcast on Identifcations were all shot on 16 mm flm, but soon
afterwards Schum abandoned the medium, selling his flm equipment and switching
production to video, considering the potential of instant playback and review as a
powerful asset for artists.
Te following year Schum and Wevers established Video Galerie Schum in
Dsseldorf, to produce, exhibit and market video art with an inaugural exhibition of
three new video works by the sculptor Ulrich Ruckriem (1938, Germany): Teilungen,
Kreise and Diagonalen (Partitions, Circles and Diagonals).
Despite his commitment and enthusiasm for video, Schum was plagued by dif-
culties with the medium in the early days, as it was expensive and bulky and required
a considerable level of technical knowledge. Initially Schum recommended the Sony
-inch system for making copies for distribution to museums and galleries, although
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for production the TV gallery he used the industry standard 1-inch video format.
Schum actively promoted the Phillips video cassette format when it was introduced
in 1972, because he felt it would ease the logistical problems associated with the
of distribution of artists video work, but for some time the cassette tape stock was
in very short supply. Tere was also the additional problem of international TV
standards, the European system being incompatible with those in use in the United
States and Japan, a factor which further hampered the distribution and sales of video
Gerry Schum was directly involved with the early video work of the British perfor-
mance artists Gilbert Proesch (1943, Italy) and George Passmore (1942, UK). Te
Nature of Our Looking (1970), although originally shot on 16 mm flm, was also
available from the Videogalerie Schum on -inch video tape, and produced in an
edition of four. More signifcantly, Gordons Makes Us Drunk (1972) was produced
at the Art for All premises in East London directly onto 1-inch videotape. Te
eleven-minute tape was issued in an edition of 25 and labelled Sculpture on Video
Tape. Two more video works followed in the same year In the Bush and A Portrait
of the Artists as Young Men. Tese works were very much in line with Gerry Schums
understanding of the suitability of the video medium for the creation of art objects,
comparing the instantaneity of the electronic image to that of paint and canvas:
With the video system today it is possible for the artist to monitor his work as
soon as an object has been realized for the video camera. Tis means you have
the opportunity to take control of the medium in the same way as you do, for
instance, with the canvas or paint medium where there is a learning process. I
believe this learning process has very decisively contributed to making the video
system as popular as it already is amongst avant-garde artists.
Gerry Schum made a major contribution to the foundation of video as a medium for
art through his visionary ideas about the potential of televisual space for the exhibition
of time-based art and via his commitment to video as a production and distribution
medium. Te establishment of Videogalerie Schum anticipated the emergence of
video as a signifcant art form and paved the way for the wider acceptance of artists
video alongside other more established art media.
Video art in Germany was comparatively slow to develop in the early years, given the
signifcance of the early contributions of Wolf Vostell, Nam June Paiks pioneering
experiments with manipulations of the television display and the pioneering work
of Gerry Schum. Early works such as Jochen Hiltmanns (1935, Germany) Video
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Tape II (1972) and Harald Ortliebs Television 1 (1973) echoed Vostells notion of
the television set as a physical object and an integral part of the domestic setting in
which the viewing habits and rituals associated with TV viewing were referenced. Tis
attitude to the relationship between the viewer and the television was explored in a
number of ways by foreign artists working in Germany in the early period, including
the previously mentioned broadcast intervention by Keith Arnatt, as well as the
Canadian artist Robin Page (1932, UK) who, in a project entitled Standing on My
Own Head (1972), challenged the usually passive home audience to make a drawing
of him and post it to the television studio. Nearly 3,000 responded to his challenge!
Tere were a number of important media activists working in Germany by the
mid-1970s including Telewissen (Teleknowledge), a group based in Darmstadt
and the Berlin-based Video-Audio-Medien. Tese and similar groups in Munich
and Hamburg rejected narrow defnitions of the art-making process, preferring to
embrace a wider philosophy of social activism, recognizing the potential of the new
portable video as a medium for social and political change:
Te spontaneous improvisation of trivial and fctional roles means a frame for
social and communicative creativity which, by going beyond mere art production,
understands itself as an emancipated contribution towards the development of
newer and more time-appropriate behaviour forms and a growth of consciousness.
Despite Germanys pre-eminence in the feld of electronic music (as discussed in
Chapter 5) electronic manipulations of the video image did not fourish in the early
period except in the areas of televised music broadcasts and brief sequences in the
intervals between regular programming on the WDR in Cologne. An example of this
approach was Black Gate Cologne produced in 1968 by Otto Piene (1928, Germany)
and Aldo Tambellini (1930, USA) for WDR, a 30-minute work made from the
documentation of an installation which presented superimposed flm projections and
the interactions of polyethylene tubing with electronically coloured shapes.
Te most prolifc area of activity in early German video art was in the relationship
between the recording process, physical action and the body in which artists such
as Ulrike Rosenbach (1943, Germany), Jochen Gerz (1940, Germany), Christina
Kubisch (1948, Germany) and Rebecca Horn (1944, Germany) took up the
mediums potential as a tool for the documentation of live performance. For example
in Call Until Exhaustion (1972) Gerz documented his eforts to shout hello at a
video camera 60 yards away.
Wolf Kahlen (1940, Germany) worked extensively with video in both installations
and tapes in the 1970s, exhibiting a collection of 25 video works in Berlin in 1975 in
which he explored the mediums potential to represent spatial relationships in relation
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to his own body and the problems of human communication. Kahlen also made a
number of signifcant sculptural video installations using simple natural objects. In
works such as Video Object I, II and III, for example, he juxtaposed live video images
of chunks of granite with the real material. Kahlen and Wolf Vostell initiated the
earliest and most important collection of German video art at the Neuer Berliner
Kunstverein in 1972.
Valie Export (1940, Germany) produced Raumsehen und Raumhren Projekt 74
(Spatial Seeing and Spatial Hearing) a video installation featuring a live performance
to multiple cameras at the Cologne Kunstverein in 1974. Also attracted by the
potential of the new medium, Ulriche Rosenbach (Germany, 1943) also began experi-
menting with video in the early 1970s (see Chapter 14).
Maria Vedder (1948, Germany) has produced a number of signifcant works both
as a solo artist and in collaboration with Bettina Gruber including On Culture (1978)
A Glance at the Video Shop (1986) and Der Herzschlag des Anubis (Te Heartbeat of
Anubis) (1988).
Since the late 1970s there have been a number of important exhibitions of artists
video in Germany. Wulf Herzogenrath (1944, Germany) has been particularly active,
curating the frst video section at Documenta 6 in 1977, as well as the frst major
historical survey of video installation Videoskulptur; Retrospectiv und Aktuel. 196389,
which toured Europe in 1989. In addition to these important showcase exhibitions,
a number of important international video festivals such as the Videonale Bonn, the
European Media Art Festival Osnabrck, and the International Media Art Festival
transmediale in Berlin were set up in the 1980s.
Many of the most signifcant video artists in Germany have taught at art academies
infuencing the ideas and output of new generations. Tese include Marcel Odenbach
(1953, Germany) and Klaus von Bruch (1952, Germany) at the College of Art and
Design in Karlsruhe, Birgit Hein at the Brunswick College of Fine Arts, Maria Vedder
and Heinz Emigholz (1948, Germany) at the Institute for Time-Based Media at the
Berlin University of the Arts, and Peter Weibel (1944, USSR) who taught at the
Institute for New Media in Frankfurt am Main before becoming director of the ZKM
(Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie) in Karlsruhe.
Video in the Netherlands had its tentative early beginnings around the end of the
1960s when a group in Eindhoven, led by Rene Coelho (1936, the Netherlands),
formed Te New Electric TV to experiment with video and television. In 1970
Livinus van de Bundt (190979, the Netherlands) produced a series of synthesized
tapes including Moiree, an early abstract tape in which colour and form were made
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to correspond to changes on the soundtrack. Te same year, Jack Moore founded
Video Heads, a production studio in Amsterdam and video production activities
were initiated in Rotterdam at the Lijnbaanscentrum. Although these facilities were
initially only used to make supporting materials for exhibitions of work in other
media, in the mid-1970s American artists such as Dennis Oppenheim and Terry Fox
were invited to use the studios to produce new works.
In 1971 Openbaar Kunstbezit commissioned video work from Dutch artists
Marinus Boezem (1934, the Netherlands), Stanley Brouwn (1935, Suriname), Ger
van Elk (1931, the Netherlands), Peter Struycken (1939, the Netherlands), and the
American artist Bruce Nauman that were broadcast on Nederlandse Omroep Stichting
(NOP) on a programme called Visual Artists Make Video (Beeldende Kunstenaars
Maken Video). Teo van der Aa and Ger van Dijk founded the Galerie Agora in
Mastricht in 1972 supporting artists working with video such as Elsa Stansfeld
(1945, UK 2004, Netherlands) and Madelon Hooykaas (1942, the Netherlands).
Meatball, founded in 1972 in Te Hague, was one of the most important centres
for video art in the Netherlands. In 1975 it was renamed Het Kijkhuis and was
regularly presenting work by international video artists, establishing the World Wide
2.1: Madelon Hooykaas and Elsa Stanseld, Finding, 1983. Courtesy of the artists.
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Video Festival in the early 1980s. Montevideo, a video production facility and centre
for media art, was also set up in Amsterdam in the late 1970s.
Te De Appel Foundation, an organization initially set up in 1975 to present
and promote new and radical art forms including live work and body art, began
supporting and distributing new video work by artists working in the Netherlands
such as Raul Marroquin (1948, Colombia), Stansfeld and Hooykaas and Nan
Hoover (1931, USA 2008, Germany) and Michel Cardena (1934, Colombia). De
Appel, along with the artists Stansfeld and Hooykaas was instrumental in establishing
the Association of Video Artists that led to the formation of Time-Based Arts, an
organization dedicated to the promotion, distribution and exhibition of video art in
the Netherlands in 1983.
Some of the video organizations that had fourished in the 1970s and early 1980s
in the Netherlands were afected by the Dutch governments decision in 1986 to
abolish the generous subsidies that artists had been enjoying up till then. Tis change
in the fortunes of Montevideo and Het Kijkhuis, for example, whose subsidies were
withdrawn by the Ministry of Culture, had the efect of directing public attention
to the art form and resulted in the provision of special funding for Time-Based Arts,
who assumed the role of representing Dutch video art at a national level.
Although art schools did not have the impact and infuence on the development
of video art as in the UK (see below), art academies in the Netherlands such as the
Jan van Eyck and the AKI in Enschede were ofering opportunities to study video at
post-graduate and undergraduate level by the early 1980s.
In France a number of radical flmmakers including Jean Luc Godard (1930, France),
Chris Marker (19212012, France) and Alain Jacquier were involved in early video
experiments working with the newly available Sony AV 2100 -inch deck and
portable recorders in 19678 interested in using the medium as a catalyst for social
change. Te recent social and political unrest during the Paris events of May 1968
(see Chapter 3) had united many radical flmmakers and political activists, and this
led directly to the formation of a number of collectives along similar lines to the
New York-based Raindance Corporation (see Chapter 3). Chris Marker and Andr
Delvaux established the flm and video group SLON (Service of Launching of New
Works), as a co-operative at the disposal of all those which want to make documen-
taries which share certain common concerns.
Similar groups formed in France
around the same time include Immedia, Les Cents Fleurs and Video OO.
Fred Forest (1933, Algeria) who worked with a Sony CV-2400 Portapak video
recorder in 1967 was one of the frst artists to experiment with video. His earliest
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works, Te Telephone Booth and Te Wall of Arles were both made during 1967 and
he produced an interactive video installation Interrogation 69, which was exhibited in
Tours in 1969.
During the 1970s Forest continued to work with video, producing
a number of important tapes and installations including Gestures in Work and Social
Life (19724), Electronic Investigation of Rue Gungaud (1973), Senior Citizen Video
(1973), Video Portrait of a Collector in Real Time (1974), Restany Dines at La Coupole
(1974), TV Shock, TV Exchange (1975), Madame Soleil Exhibited in the Flesh (1975),
and Te Video Family (1976).
As in other countries, French performance artists were among the frst to work
with video, primarily using the new medium as an element within their live work or
for documentation purposes. Te earliest example of this in France was Gina Panes
Nourriture, Feu, Actualits produced in 1971.
As discussed elsewhere in this book, a number of flmmakers and musicians
working at ORTF in Paris produced experimental video for broadcast television in
the late 1960s and early 1970s using Franois Coupignys Truquer Universel, an
early video synthesizer (see Chapter 7) including Martial Raysse (1936, France),
Jean-Christophe Averty (1928, France), and Olivier Debre (192099, France). Te
most signifcant video artist to emerge from this period at the OFTF was Robert
Cahen (1945, France) (discussed in more detail in Chapters 5 and 10).
Te frst important video exhibition in France was Art-Video Confrontation at the
Muse dArt Moderne and Centre dActivits Audio-Visuales in Paris in 1974, which
presented a mix of French and European video art.
Other important video artists to emerge in France during the late 1970s and early
1980s include several who were also writers and theorists for the medium such as
Dominique Belloir (1948, France), who produced Memory Foldes (1977) using the
Truquer Universel and Digital Opera (1980), Tierry Kuntzel (1948, France) who
made works such as Nostos (1979), and Time Smoking a Picture (1980) and Jean-Paul
Fargier (1944, France), who produced Carnet dun magntoscope (1980) and Larche
de Nam June Paik (1981).
A number of major exhibitions in Paris in the early 1980s featured video instal-
lation work. French artists, including Catherine Ikam (1945, France) (Fragments of
an Archetype, 1980); Tierry Kuntzel (19482007, France); Michel Jafrennou (1944,
France) (Videofashes, Totalogiques, 1982 and Te Sweet Babble of Electrons in the Video
Wall, 1983); and Nil Yalter (1938, Turkey) (Te Rituals, 1980); were featured at the
Centre Pompidou, the Biennales de Paris (1980) and the ARC (19813).
In 1981, the American artist, curator and writer Don Foresta (1939, USA)
organized the earliest exhibition of video work by French artists to tour in the USA.
Tis exhibition, which featured work produced in France during the 1970s, included
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works by Roland Baldi (1942, Egypt); Robert Cahen, Collette Debre (1944, France);
Catherine Ikam, Chris Marker, Olivier Debre, Francois Pain (1945, France); Partick
Prado (1940, France); Claude Torey (1939, France); Nil Yalter and Nicole Croiset
(1950, France).
Video art in Poland frst emerged in the early 1970s, as artists beginning to explore
the potential of the new medium gained access to it via the Film Form Workshops.
Drawing on the experience of experimental flm, Polish artists sought to examine the
formal properties and functioning of broadcast television, including its central role in
domestic life and the nature of the live image of the closed-circuit television system
(CCTV), as well as the television set as sculpture.
Te art historian and curator Lukasz Ronduda identifed the four most important
artists working with video in Poland during the 1970s and 1980s as Wojciech
2.2: Wojciech Bruszewski, From X to X, 1976. Courtesy of the artist.
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Bruszewski (19472009, Poland), Janusz Szczerek (1953, Poland), Jozef Rabakowski
(1939, Poland) and Zbigniew Libera (1959, Poland). For Ronduda, the work of these
four artists is signifcant because it established and determined the most signifcant
trends and approaches to artists video in Poland.
Wojciech Bruszewski, who co-founded the Film Form workshop, explored the
potential of video to explore the complex relationships between the representations
of reality mediated via the electronic image. Tis was particularly apparent in both
videotapes and installations in his series Te Video Touch (19767), Outside (1975)
and Input/Output (1977) (see Chapter 8).
Other artists from this early formative period include Andrzej Rozycki (1942,
Poland) and Pawel Kwiek (1951, Poland) who both made their frst video installa-
tions in 1973. Te same year, Bruszewski and Piotr Bernacki (1954, Poland) made
Picture Language, a videotape which explored the relationship between visual images
and abstract signs. Bruszewski and Kweik (Video A) both produced works in 1974
focusing on the articulation and contradictions of image space.
Te most signifcant theme in much of this work, as with Polish experimental
flm of the period, was the exploration of the relationship between reality (tele)visual
representation and the viewers perceptions. Tis theme was tied into an examination
of the nature of the medium and its potential for the communication of abstract
Beginning with An Objective Transmission, considered to be the frst Polish video
installation (1973), Jozef Robakowski began to explore the potential of live video
performance work, a genre that became one of the most prevalent forms of video art
in Poland during the 1970s. In his single-screen videotapes Robakowski was particu-
larly concerned to distance himself from broadcast television, in Video Art: A Chance
to Approach Reality, written in 1976, he claimed:
Video art is entirely incompatible with the utilitarian character of television; it is
the artistic movement, which through its dependence denounces the mechanism
of the manipulation of other people.
Robakowskis videotapes such as Memory of L. Brezhnev (1982), and Art is Power
(1985) (discussed in more detail in Chapter 9), can be seen as examples of his ideas
about the complex relationship between artists video and broadcast television.
By the mid-1970s a new generation of artists, many of whom had previously
worked with flm, had begun to explore the potential of video, including Jolanta
Marcolla, Zbigniew Rybczynski, Janusz Kolodrubiec and Anna Kutera.
At the height of the Solidarity Movement in Poland during the beginning of
the 1980s, there was a number of large-scale surveys of avant-garde work including
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Konstrukcja w procesie (the Construction in Process) in Lodz and Nowe zjawiska
w sztuce lat siedemdziesiatych (New Phenomena in the Polish Art of the Seventies)
in Sopot, both of which featured work by artists exploring the potential of the video
After the imposition of martial law in 1981, there was inevitably a radical
change to the lives of most Polish artists. Many went underground, exhibiting and
presenting their work in alternative venues that had the positive efect of bringing
critics, artists and the public into much closer contact with each other. With state
patronage withdrawn, the flm workshops, once the mainstay of experimental flm
production, ceased to function and access to flmmaking equipment and facilities
became very restricted. Equipment such as video cameras had to be smuggled into the
country and were often shared and passed between artists clandestinely, as possession
was illegal for private citizens. However, after the lifting of martial law in 1983 video
equipment became much more freely available (and as a direct result of technological
developments it was also much easier to use) and video inevitably became the more
prevalent medium for moving image work.
In 1952 Lucio Fontana (1899, Argentina; 1968, Italy) and his gruppo spazialista
formulated the Manifesto del Movimento spaziale per la televisione. In an experi-
mental television programme broadcast on RAI (Radio Audizioni Italiane), Italian
state television, Fontana frst applied his notion of the concetto spaziale to the
television image.
Te earliest Italian video work was produced by artists known for their work in
other media such as Fontana: Mario Merz (19252003, Italy); Franco Vaccari (1936,
Italy); Eliseo Mattiacci (1940, Italy); Vettor Pisani (1934, Italy); Antonio Trotta
(1937, Italy); Francesco Clemente (1952, Italy); and Mimmo Germana (194492,
A number of the artists associated with Arte Povera initially experimented with the
formulation of a linguistic analysis of video with works that made use of narrative or
literary structures such as analogy and metaphor. Many of these early works presented
a series of intricate, almost rhetorical structures, which contrasted with the early video
work produced in the USA, for example, which often focused on single units of signi-
fcation, as in the work of Nam June Paik.
In 1969 two kinetic artists, Vincenzo Agnetti (192681, Italy) and Gianni
Colombo (193793, Italy) produced Vobulazione e bieloquenza negativa, based on the
distortion of the video signal.
As in many other countries under discussion, there was a sudden furry of
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video activity in Italy at the beginning of the 1970s. Te very frst exhibition
to include video work by Renato Barilli (1935, Italy), Maurizio Calvesi
(1927, Italy) and Tommaso Trini (1937, Italy), was Gennaio 70, III Biannale
Internationale della Giovane Pittura at Museo Civico in Bologna. Following this,
the frst videosaletta (video salon) was established in Milan in 1971 at Galleria
TV mezzo aperto (TV Open Medium) is the inaugural exhibition at Galleria
dArte Moderna e Contemporanea Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara where the Centro
Video Arte was established in 1972. Te same year the Venice Biennale presented
Joseph Beuys Filz-tv, a live performance in which the artist performs various actions
in front of a TV screen that he had covered with felt.
In 1973, Maria Grazia Bicocchi established Art/Tapes/22 in Florence, with
American video artist Bill Viola as technical director. Between 1973 and 1976, this
pioneering centre produced an astonishing number of videotapes by major American
and European artists. Te list of artists who visited Art/Tapes/22 and produced new
works reads like a Whos Who of the contemporary art scene: John Baldessari,
Daniel Buren, Chris Burden, Joan Jonas, Richard Landry, Douglas Davis, Allan
Kaprow, Jannis Kounellis, Nina Sobell, Simone Forti, Jean Otth, Terry Fox, Simone
Forti, Christian Boltansky, Alighiero Boetti, Takahiko Iimura, Frank Gillette, Vito
Acconci, Les Levine, Paolo Patelli, Willoughby Sharp, Marco Del Re, Charlemagne
Palestine, Sandro Chia, Maurizio Nannucci, Gino de Dominicis, Guido Paolini and
Lucio Pozzi. In 2008, this important contribution to the development of artists
video as an international phenomenon was documented in a major exhibition at
the University Art Museum at the College of the Arts in Long Beach California. A
number of the videotapes produced at Art/Tapes/22 were relatively unknown and
have been now been restored by the Venice Biennale Foundations Historic Archives
of Contemporary Arts.
Prior to this, as early as 1967, Luciano Giaccari presented artists videotapes at
Studio 971 in Varese. Te following year he established the Videoteca Giaccari
focusing on video documentation of artists performances and events as part of a
major project entitled Televisione come memoria [Television as Memory].
In 1973 Giaccari wrote the Classifcazione dei metodi dimpiego del video in
arte [Classifcations of the Methods and Uses of Video in Art] based on his broad
experience of a wide range of video related activities including the production of some
of the earliest video-documents of artists work, the establishment of videosalette
in various locations, the use of video for real-time documentation of music, dance
and theatre events, the production of video-catalogues, a video-magazine entitled
Video-critica and the establishment of a video lab of the history of art. Giaccaris
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Classifcation became the basis for a precise theoretical formulation and functioned
as a bridge between these diverse experiences and the establishment of the Videoteca,
which had a profound infuence on other later initiatives in artists video in Italy and
elsewhere in Europe.
Te establishment of the Videoteca Giaccari was signifcant, and constituted a
major presence, contributing to the most important Italian and international festivals,
surveys and institutions. Te Videoteca was also the production centre for most of
the video works in two major exhibitions surveying Italian contemporary art of the
1970s: Identit Italienne in Paris (1981) and Italian Art in London (1982).
From the earliest years of artists video, and in parallel with the European and North
American context, Giaccari supported and encouraged Italian artists to experiment
with a wide variety of forms and approaches, but in comparison to the developments
in artists video in countries such as the United States and Germany, the experiments
of Italian artists in the early period were tentative and sporadic. Nevertheless, these
experiments took place and have been collected, archived and catalogued by Giaccari,
constituting a valuable record of Italys contribution to the development of video art.
Giaccari also encouraged other galleries to promote and exhibit artists video. For
example, the Venice-based Galleria del Cavallino became an important centre for the
distribution of Italian artists video to international venues.
Centro Video Arte Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara was the other signifcant centre
of activity for video art in Italy. For example it was here that Fabrizio Plessi (1940,
Italy) produced his frst videotapes Acquabiografco (1973) and Travel (1974), and in
the following year he collaborated with the German artist Christina Kubisch (1948,
Germany) to produce Liquid Piece. Other artists active at the Centro Video Arte
include Maurizio Bonora (1940, Italy), Maurizio Camerani (1951, Italy) and Giorgio
Cattani (1949, Italy).
As the 1970s progressed other institutions and galleries such as Galleria Civica in
Turin and Centro Internazionale di Brera in Milan began to exhibit and feature video
work by artists such as Piero Gilardi (1942, Italy), Mario Sasso (1934, Italy), Gianni
Toti (19242007, Italy), Claudio Ambrosini (1948, Italy), Luigi Viola (1949, Italy),
Michele Sambin (1951, Italy).
Being the northern neighbour to the United States has advantages and disadvan-
tages former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once famously remarked
that it was like sharing a bed with an elephant! Te cultural, political and economic
infuences from the USA were (and still are) signifcant, but nevertheless Canada has
made a distinctive contribution to the development of artists video. It is a large and
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sparsely populated country, with a complex cultural heritage and this has produced
a number of distinctly unique approaches to video. As Canadian curator and writer
Peggy Gale points out, Canada is too spread out, too diverse, to present a united
Gale identifed four major centres in which video began to have an impact
on the arts at the beginning of the 1970s in Canada: Vancouver on the west coast,
Halifax on the east coast, and in the two major cities of Toronto and Montreal. It
is important to note that these regional centres have remained infuential and that
they forged distinctive identities in terms of their theoretical, aesthetic and political
approaches to the medium.
In Ontario activity was initially centred on A Space in Toronto, a gallery,
production facility and distribution centre for artists video, which was established
in 1971. Toronto-based artists working in this period included the artists collective
General Idea (A. A. Bronson, born Michael Tims, 1946, Canada; Felix Partz,
born Ronald Gabe, 194594, Canada; and Jorge Zontal, born Slobodan Saia-Levy,
2.3: Lisa Steele, Birthday Suit, 1974, Courtesy of V-tape and the artist.
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19949, Canada) who founded Art Metropole, a video distribution centre and gallery
in 1974. Video works by this group include Light On (19704) Blocking (1974), Pilot
(1977) and Press Conference (1977). Other signifcant artists working out of Toronto
included Colin Campbell (19422001, Canada) and Lisa Steele (1947, USA). Te
predominant approach of artists such as Campbell and Steele has been characterized
as highly personal and intimate, often working with video in a one-to-one setting
using their own bodies to present and explore self-refexive and often intimate issues
of the personal and the formal. Early works by Steele include Birthday Suit (1974),
A Very Personal Story (1975) and Internal Pornography (1975) a three-monitor instal-
lation. Previously a sculptor, Colin Campbell began working exclusively with video
in 1972, producing tapes such as Sackville Im Yours (1972), Real Split, Janus (1973)
and Hindsight (1975).
Outside of the metropolis of Toronto, other Ontario-based artists who worked
2.4: Lisa Steele, Birthday Suit, 1974, Courtesy of V-tape and the artist.
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consistently with video, included Eric Cameron (1935, UK), Contact (1973), Sto/ol
(1974), Numb Bares I and II (1976) (see Chapter 9); Noel Harding (1945, UK),
who made many tapes including Untitled Using Barbara (1973), Births Child (1973),
Clouds (1974) at the University of Guelph; Murray Favro (1940, Canada) and
Gregory Curnoe (193692, Canada) based in London, Ontario.
In Montreal, Quebec, the emphasis in early video work was more social than
personal, and this cultural activity was focused by the foundation of Videographe
by Robert Forget in 1971. Forget, one of the founders of the infuential Challenge
for Change project at the National Film Board of Canada, was instrumental in
researching the use and application of the Portapak, established Videographe as a
production and distribution centre with substantial funding from both the Quebec
provincial and Canadian central government. Forget perceived the Portapak as
the ultimate democratic medium, a tool that was ideally suited both to personal
expression and as a tool for the empowerment of others. His ideas were infuential,
both in Canada and abroad (see for example, a discussion about the work of John
Hopkins and Sue Hall in the UK below). Tis approach to video was by far the most
dominant in Montreal, as Videographe provided the support and technical resources
for many projects both within the region and well beyond. Individuals working with
video during this period include Lise Belanger, Jean-Pierre Boyer (1950, Canada),
Pierre Falardeau (19462009, Canada) and Julien Poulin (1946, Canada), who
produced Continuons le Combat (1971) and La Magra (1974).
Vancouver was the epicentre of video activity on the Canadian west coast. Initially
centred on Intermedia, an artists group formed at the end of the 1960s, activity
soon splintered into a number of artists co-operatives and studios, the best known
2:5 Jean-Pierre Boyer, Inedit, 1975.
Courtesy of the artist.
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of which were Te Satellite Video Exchange Society (initially known as Video Inn
now Video In) established in 1972; the Western Front; and Women in Focus, set up
a year later. Video Inn, a co-operatively run video library and screening facility, whose
founder members included Renee Baert, Michael Goldberg (see Early video in Japan,
below), Patricia Hardman, Charles Keast, Ann McDonald, Janet Miller, Shawn Preus,
Paula Wainberg, Richard Ward, and Paul Wong, published Te International Exchange
Directory, a listing of video work that covered the entire spectrum of video activity
from community and social action to experimental image-processing, conceptual and
performance work, with Video Out as a distribution channel. Te Western Fronts
activities however, were centred on the creative input of its individual members,
which included Kate Craig; Still Life (1976) and Back Up (1978), Vincent Trasov
(a.k.a. Mr. Peanut); Civic Election in Vancouver: Mr. Peanut for Mayor (1974) and My
Five Years in a Nutshell (1975).
Aside from the artists co-ops, individual artists based in Vancouver included
Don Druick, a composer and performer who began working with video in 1970,
producing for example, Van de Graf (19714) and (AE) ONE (1975); and Al Razutis,
who worked in flm, poetry and sound, as well as videotape, and who produced
Waveform (1975).
Te Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax on the Atlantic
coast was another important Canadian centre for early video art activity. Te insti-
tution made a decision at the beginning of the 1970s to encourage artists to work
with video, and this was accentuated by an earlier decision to invite a number of
important international artists for periods as artists-in-residence, many of whom
worked with video, including Vito Acconci, Dan Graham and Steve Reich. One of
the most signifcant artists to have emerged from NSCAD (he taught there from
196873) was David Askevold, who produced narrative videotapes of works that had
originated in other media, such as Green Willow for Delaware (1974) and My Recall of
an Imprint from a Hypothetical Jungle (1973) and Very Soon You Will (1977).
Despite Japans pre-eminence in the manufacture and design of early portable video
and electronic equipment, there were surprisingly few pioneering video and televisual
experiments before 1970. However, some notable works from this frst period
include Toshio Matsumotos (1932, Japan) Magnetic Scramble, which was included
in his 1968 flm Funeral of Roses; Katsuhiro Yamaguchi and Yoshiaki Tonos video
event I Am Looking for Something to Say as well as some early video experiments by
flmmakers such as Kohei Ando, Rokuro Miyai, Keigo Yamamoto and Takahiko
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Expo 70 in Osaka was an important turning point for the development of artists
video in Japan; with its focus on the integration of art and technology, artists were
encouraged to experiment with the new medium with the support of business and
As in the West, many Japanese artists who began to work with video had previ-
ously worked with more established media such as painting, printmaking, sculpture
or music, but some who were attracted to the new medium also had experience of
working with flm, photography and performance, and so ideas and approaches
from these media were infuential. Many of the artists who became interested in the
potential of video were members of one of the two infuential groups engaged in the
so-called anti-art activities of the 1960s the Gutai and the Mono-ha groups,
which had grown up in opposition to the more traditional and formal art of the
previous generation.
All or most of these artists had previously exhibited work in
both national and international art exhibitions, and so were aware of new ideas and
approaches to exploring new mediums and materials.
Te Tenth Tokyo Biennial, subtitled Between Man and Matter, was an infu-
ential event that laid the foundation for future experimental art activity in Japan.
Organized by the art critic Yusuki Nakahara, the exhibition showcased contemporary
experimental art activity, presenting the work of a number of important conceptual
artists from the United States and Europe including Donald Judd, Carl Andre,
Richard Serra, Sol Lewitt, Keith Sonnier and Klaus Rinke.
Takahiko Iimura (1937, Japan) extended his earliest video experiments with a live
closed-circuit video projection event entitled Inside/Outside presented at the Ashai
Lecture Hall in Tokyo in February 1971, followed by his video work Man and Woman
exhibited at the 10th Contemporary Japanese Art Exhibition in May of the same year.
One of the most important and prolifc Japanese artists to work with video, Iimura
frst encountered the medium in New York, where he met the Korean video artist
Nam June Paik, and saw the work of the pioneering American artist Les Levine.
A visit to Japan in November 1971 by the Canadian video activist Michael
Goldberg (1945, Canada) also had a signifcant impact on the development of artists
video in Japan. Initially staying for four months in Tokyo, Goldberg, a member of
the Vancouver artists group Video Inn (see above, Video art in Canada in the early
years), presented videotapes by Canadian artists including Don Druik, Eric Metcalfe
and General Idea, to promote his ideas about the power and potential of video as a
radical communication tool within a decentralized distribution network.
Goldbergs ideas and enthusiasm for the new medium and its potential struck
a chord, and was the catalyst for the development of the frst video exhibition in
Japan, Video Communication Do-it-Yourself Kit, which was presented at the Sony
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showroom in the Ginza district of Tokyo and initiated in collaboration with Japanese
artists Katsuhiro Yamaguchi and Fujiko Nakaya in February 1972. Tis event, for
which many artists made their frst videotapes under the direct guidance and tutelage
of Goldberg, featured screenings of these tapes as well as fve separate live events using
video feedback and time delay. Japanese artists featured in this inaugural exhibition
include Toshio Matsumoto, Hakudo Kobyashi, Nobuhiro Kawanaka, Yoshiaki Tono,
Tetsuo Matsushita, Michitaka Nakahara, Rikuro Miyai, Masao Komura, Sakumi
Hagiwara, Keigo Yamamoto and Shoko Matsushita.
Most importantly this seminal event led directly to the formation of Video
in March 1972, marking a key moment in the history of artists video
in Japan. Te Video Hiroba group jointly purchased a portable video camera and
recorder and rented an ofce in Tokyo, aiming to provide facilities and opportu-
nities to make and exhibit new video work. Te same year, the group followed up
their inaugural exhibition with a second event, Video Week: Open Retina-Grab
Your Image in collaboration with the American Center, Tokyo. Tis event featured
2.6: Takahiko Iimura, Man and Woman, 1971. Courtesy of the artist.
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the work of 28 Japanese artists including Shuya Abe, Takahiko limura and Shigeko
Kubota from the USA.
Two other artists video groups were also active from this period Video Earth,
established by flm-animator Ko Nakajima in 1971, and the Video Information
Center, founded in 1974 by Ichiro Tezuka, initially to produce and distribute video-
tapes of theatrical and cultural events. Toshio Matsumoto presented three colour
videotapes at Video Earth Metastasis, Autonomy and Expansion in June 1972. Tese
works explored the potential of a video process called Data Color System, which
provided Matsumoto with the potential for subtle control over the colour changes.
Following on from this work he collaborated with electronics engineer Shuya Abe,
also an active member of Video Hiroba, towards the development of a computer
video system.
In January 1973 Fujiko Nakaya presented a selection of work by the Video
Hiroba group at the Matrix International Video Conference, organized by
Michael Goldberg in Vancouver.
Te infuence and exchange of ideas between
artists working with video in North America is a signifcant factor in the early
years, and in addition to the pioneering initiatives of Michael Goldberg in the
instigation of Video Hiroba there were a number of important lectures, screenings
and exhibition events by pioneering American artists including John Reiley,
Rudi Stern, Joan Jonas, John Sturgeon, Arthur Ginsberg and Michael Shamberg.
During Shambergs visit to Tokyo in September 1971 he distributed copies of
Radical Software to a number of artists, and according to Fujiko Nakaya, the ideas
and approach of the publication were infuential. (Te following year Nakayas
translation of Shambergs book Guerrilla Television was published by Bijutsu-
Shuppan-Sha, Tokyo.)
In addition to being one of the founding members of Video Hiroba, Fujiko
Nakaya is an important fgure in the development of artists video in Japan. Studying
fne art in the USA, she was based in New York in the mid-1960s becoming a member
of the Experiments in Art and Technology Group (EAT) founded by Billy Kluver and
Robert Rauschenberg. Although perhaps now better known for the innovative fog
sculptures that she has exhibited internationally since the early 1970s, Nakaya has
continued to work with video throughout her career. In 1980 she founded the only
specialist video gallery in Japan, Video Gallery Scan, based in the Harajuku area of
In 1974 New York-based artist Shigeko Kubota organized Tokyo-New York Video
Express, exhibiting 30 American videotapes alongside tapes and live performances by
artists from Video Hiroba including works by Shuntaro Tanigawa, Kyoko Michishita
and Mako Idemitsu at the Tenjosajikikan Teatre.
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Japanese artists were also exhibiting new video work internationally in 1974.
Toshio Matsumoto presented a selection of tapes by members of Video Hiroba and
other artists as part of his lecture on Video Art in Japan at the international video
conference Open Circuits at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Tat same
year Japanese artists were also featured in the newly introduced video section at the
11th International Contemporary Art Exhibition, which presented tapes by Fujiko
Nakaya, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi, Hakudo Kabayashi, Shoji Matsamoto, Morihiro
Wada and Masao Komura.
By the mid-1970s, artists video in Japan had begun to fourish, with screenings,
exhibitions and events in a wide variety of venues and institutions using a range of
media and formats. Some of the work in this early period had a distinctly political
dimension, exhibiting the infuence of approaches to the medium from activists such
as Goldberg, Shamberg and others, providing a model for alternative communication
networks, local cable TV systems and community action initiatives.
According to the writer and translator Alfred Birnbaum, who was actively involved
in the early days, with one or two exceptions, artists video in Japan lacked a viable
second generation, and during the late 1970s and early 1980s video art in Japan was
dominated by two major foreign artists Nam June Paik and Bill Viola. Students
studying video in art schools and university art departments were highly infuenced
by the work of these two artists to the extent that early 80s artists video in Japan can
2.7: Visual Brains, De Sign 2, 1991. Courtesy of the artists.
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be divided into two distinct camps: Te Emotive Viola School of fxed framing, slow
zooms and subtle distortions of the visual feld or the Playful Paik School of slapdash
pop and irreverent media trickery, translated into fast frame editing, processed
imagery and synthetic techno-colours.
However, among the more notable second-generation video artists to emerge
in the 1980s was the duo Visual Brains (Hatsune Ohtsu and Sei Kazama, both
1956, Japan), who produced a number of signifcant videotapes and performances,
including Mold (1983) and Soko (1985) and the De Sign series during the early
1990s and Shinsuke Ina (1953, Japan) who began to explore the capabilities of
the video image at the end of the 1970s with videotapes and closed-circuit video
performances such as Watching/Drawing/Zooming (1979), Flow (1983) and Sha
Although artists video emerged in Brazil in the late 1960s, it was not initially as an
autonomous practice, but as part of a search for new structures and forms which artists
developed alongside their previous work in more established art forms particularly
In Brazil the earliest video work was made by previously established artists
such as Jose Roberto Aguilar, Sonia Andrade, Paulo Bruscky, Fernando Cocchiarale,
Antonio Dias, Mary Dritschel, Anna Bella Geiger, Roberto Sandoval, Ivens Machado,
Leticia Parente, Regina Silveira, Paulo Herkenhof and Regina Vater. Tese artists
and others began working with video as one among many alternative media such as
photography, flm and installation, and therefore opportunities to experience video
art in Brazil were initially limited to art galleries and museums, and it was not seen
either by artists or potential audiences as a radical alternative to television, although
it was to some extent perceived as distinct from cinema. For the most part artists
working with video in Brazil used the medium as an extension to their existing and
emerging practice in other media, and did not seek to explore the medium in order
to develop a new and unique language in ways comparable to artists in the USA,
Europe or Japan.
Letcia Parente (193091), one of the most infuential artists of this early group,
produced an extended series of short video pieces centered on actions and perfor-
mances using her own body. Works in this series include Preparation I (1975);
Preparation II (1975); In (1975); Trademark (1975); Who blinked frst (1978),
Specular (1978) and Te mans arm and the arm of man (1978). Other important early
video works by pioneering Brazilian artists working in the 1970s include Lua Oriental
(Jos Roberto Aguilar), 1978; M3X3 (Analvia Cordeiro), 1973; A Situao (Geraldo
Anhaia Mello), 1978 and Temporada de caa (Rita Moreira).
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Although the frst generation of Brazilian artists working with video explored the
potential of video as a method of performance documentation of their own bodily
actions rather than as an alternative communication medium with its own aesthetic
language, this situation changed radically in the 1980s when a new generation of
university and college educated individuals took up the medium. Two groups origi-
nating in Sao Paulo exemplify this approach: TVDO (Tadeu Jungle, Walter Silveira,
Ney Marcondes, Paulo and Pedro Vieira Priolli), formed in 1980 by former students
at the School of Television Arts and Communication; and Olhar Eletrnico, created
in 1981 by graduates of the College of Architecture and Urbanism at the University
of So Paulo (Fernando Meirelles, Marcelo Machado, Jose Roberto and Paulo Morelli
Salatini. Renato Barbieri and Ernesto Varela).
Although initially none of the new work these artists produced was broadcast, this
generation of artists saw their work as an extension and development of television,
initiating and establishing alternative methods of presentation such as video festivals
2.8: Leticia Parente, Preparao I, 1975. Courtesy of Andr Parente.
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and independent screening rooms. Tis new breed of artist/ video maker often
adopted an approach related to documentary and social /political themes, rejecting
the illusion of the impartiality and balance of conventional broadcast TV, and opting
for an approach to the medium that incorporated their own doubts and uncertainties
and foregrounding the position and bias of the maker(s) and the medium within the
work. Tis second generation of Brazilian artists working with video include Rafael
Frana (Du Vain Combat, 1984); Reencontro (1984); Getting Out (1985); Alfredo
Nagib (Eletricidade, 1982); Pedro Vieira and Walter Silveira (VT Preparado AC/JC,
1986); Fernando Meirelles (Braslia, 1983); and Olhar Eletrnico, which comprised
Renato Barbieri, Paulo Morelli and Marcelo Machado (Do outro lado da sua casa,
1985); Marina Abs (Mergulho, 1986); and Tadeu Jungle (Non Plus Ultra, 1985).
Although for the most part Australian artists perhaps inevitably looked to North
America and Europe for inspiration, they have drawn upon these infuences to
develop an independent approach and sensibility. As elsewhere, artists in Australia
began experimenting with video in the early 1970s and work in the medium emerged
out of Conceptual Art practices of the late 1960s and early 1970s that were charac-
terized by a shift away from more traditional art media and materials.
Among the earliest artists in Australia to experiment with video were performance
artists. Peter Kennedy and Mike Parr (both 1945, Australia) frst began using the
medium to document their performances and events using the Akai -inch video
format and showed a series of works in 1971 at Inhibodress, an artists co-operative
and alternative exhibition space they founded in Sydney the previous year.
works from these two artists include Parrs Cathartic Action/Social Gestus No. 5 (1977)
and Kennedys November Eleven (1979) made in collaboration with John Hughes and
Andrew Scollo.
Two other performance artists, Tim Johnson (1947, Australia) and Tim Burns
(1947, Australia) were also early pioneers in the new medium. Johnsons Disclosures
Series (197172) presented at the Tin Sheds at Sydney University and Burns instal-
lation Fences to Climb, which made extensive use of CCTV as a central element. Both
were featured in the exhibition Recent Australian Art at the Art Gallery of New
South Wales in 1973.
An important strand of early video experimentation in Australia involved the
electronic manipulation and transformation of the image which began with work by
flmmaker and artist Michael Glasheen (1942, Australia) with his work Teleological
Telecast from Spaceship Earth (1970). Tis work, infuenced by the ideas from
Information Teory (Shannon and Weaver), and cybernetics (Norbert Weiner et
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al.), was perhaps the earliest video work made by an Australian artist. Later in the
decade Glasheen also made Uluru (1977), a blend of time-lapse photography, video
mixing and electronic superimpositions relating to Aboriginal myths and legends of
the Australian landscape.
Glasheen co-founded Bush Video with Joseph El Khourey, Jon Lewis, Anne Kelly,
Fat Jack Jacobson and Melinda Brown, after being approached by the organizers of
the Aquarius Festival, held in the town of Nimbin, New South Wales, to set up a
video resource centre and workshop to document the festival.
With funding from
the Australian government to purchase equipment and transport, the project resulted
in the frst experiment in cable television in Australia. Te project attracted a cluster
of sympathetic artists and technologists forming a collective of enthusiasts who
continued and extended their work once relocated to Glasheens studio in Ultimo, a
suburb of Sydney, following the festival.
Te Bush Video group produced many hours of abstract experimental video
work mostly created in live mix-down sessions recorded onto videotape. According
to video artist and writer Stephen Jones (see below), who was himself part of the
2.9: Peter Kennedy, John Hughes and Andrew Scollo, November Eleven 1979. Courtesy of the
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group once it established itself in Sydney, Bush Video produced hundreds of hours of
recordings which explored and investigated the abstract potentials of vision-mixing
and electronic image college using a complex blend of video feedback, image synthesis
and live and recorded video sources.
Using wipes and luminance keys the mixer could take layers of images oscil-
loscope displays, Lissajous fgures, animated wire-frame geometric drawings done
on Doug Richardsons computer, and the streaming echoes of visual feedback
and combine them into collections of images redolent with ideas about the
geometry of space and consciousness. Tey were searching for a new language for
the new ideas that came with cybernetics, geodesic domes, Buckminster Fuller and
Marshall McLuhan, and of course, the newly accessible electronic technologies.
As in the UK, many Australian artists were interested in working with the medium in
opposition to broadcast television, and this approach was fostered in part by the estab-
lishment of twelve Video Access Centres around Australia by the Labour government
under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1974, drawing on ideas and approaches
from the National Film Board of Canadas Challenge for Change programme
above). As part of this network, two main resource centres were set up City Video
at Paddington and Melbourne Access Video and Media Co-operative (MAVAM)
at Carlton. Tese two centres became the main access for artists and independent
producers throughout the 1970s, in addition to supporting major art galleries such as
the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Sydney.
Te AGNSW presented some of the frst examples of video work by US and
international artists working with video; for example in 1976, Nam June Paik and
Charlotte Moorman presented TV Cello, Les Levine showed a selection of recent
political works and the video collective Ant Farm presented Media Burn. However, as
Peter Callas (1952, Australia) has written, these events were not common and most
of his experience of artists video was more indirect:
Nearly all of my earliest exposure to video art was through books. Installation
work incorporating video fared somewhat better under these circumstances than
videotape work did in its distorted transmission via printed black and white
photographs. Nam June Paiks humour and irreverence in his performance works
like TV Bra and TV Penis and in his installations like Fish TV, TV Chair and
Rembrandt Automatic were never difcult to understand in print.
Warren Burt (1949, USA) studied electronic music and video in New York and
California, collaborating with American video imaging pioneers Tom De Witt and
Ed Emshwiller (see Chapter 7) before becoming Senior Tutor in Music at La Troube
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University in Melbourne. An aspect of Burts role in the department was to develop
a new video and sound studio at La Troube. Newly acquired video equipment in the
studio included an Electronic Music Studios (EMS) Spectre, which along with the
Hern Video Lab, Burt was able to access to develop and refne his own experimental
video work (see Chapter 7 for further information about the Spectre/Spectron and
Hearn Videolab). In both live performance collaborations with dancers and musicians
and videotaped works which included Nocturnal B (1978) and Five Moods (1979),
Burts innovative early colour video work drew directly on what he called the Cageian
and Xenakisian traditions of electronic music applied to the generation and manipu-
lation of video imagery:
with the electronic generation of images; the most simple and direct
way to record those images was with video making electronic images,
which are controlled by the same, sort of at frst analogue and later
digital, electronic processes and this means that were constantly thinking
about what sort of processes we can assemble. For example, the old Moog
had 6 or 10 low frequency oscillators and so if you mixed those together
you get a complex fairly non-predictable pattern that you could apply to
sound or to colour. If you have 3 of those going, you could have incredible
changing colour things. If you apply another one of those to shape pretty
soon you are algorithmically generating images. What today would be called
generative imagery.
Infuential through his work and teaching on the subsequent generation of artists
working with video in Australia, Burt was also a founder member of important
alternative venues for the presentation of experimental video and sound events such
as the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre (1976) and as a curator of early video
exhibitions in Australia such as Video Spectrum (1977), which included American
video artist Bill Viola, in his frst visit to Australia.
Stephen Jones (1951, Sydney) also included in Video Spectrum, has been an
infuential and important artist, engineer, activist, curator, writer and historian
of artists video in Australia since the mid-1970s. Examples of his early solo work
include Stonehenge and TV Buddha (Homage to Nam June Paik) (both 1978), and
he has collaborated with numerous artists and performers, most notably between
1983 and 1992 with Tom Ellard (1962, Australia), as one of the main members of
Severed Heads, an electronic music group based in Sydney. In 1976, Jones worked
with Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman to construct the Perspex video cello
used during their performance at the AGNSW (see above). In 1977 Jones organized
Open Processes at the Watters Gallery in Sydney, an open format event to explore
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the potential for video and associated electronic technologies within the gallery
environment: a space for working, in public ways, with games, performance,
playback, videotaping, real-time audio/video synthesis activities, theatre, dance
music, hardware, installations.
In 1979, Jones co-curated the touring exhibition Videotapes from Australia, with
Bernice Murphy, that included works by 25 artists and was shown at Te Kitchen
in New York, the Los Angeles Institute for Contemporary Art, Video Free America
in San Francisco and Video Inn, Vancouver. It was subsequently shown at the Art
Gallery of New South Wales and the Venice Biennale in 1980.
Robert Randall and Frank Bendinelli (both 1948, Australia), collectively known as
the Rendellis, were particularly prolifc during the 1980s, producing a body of short,
visually graphic works working with so-called high-end video production facilities.
Single-screen works such as Spaces 16, Fantales, Leash Control and Love Me, Buy
Me, Envy Me (all 1981) were widely exhibited both in Australia and abroad.
2.10: Gary Willis, Te Ve Vu Du, 1982. Courtesy of the artist.
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Gary Willis (1949, Australia) working in collaboration with Eve Schramm (1956,
Germany) has produced a number of important works including Strategies for
Goodbye (1981) and Te Ve Vu Du (1982) also made with Chris Mearing (1947, UK).
Since the early 1980s John Gillies (1960, Australia) has produced a series of
multi-layered and complex videotapes and installations including Hymn (1983),
Techno/Dumb/Show (1991), My Sisters Room (2000) and Divide (2004). He has also
curated a number of important video screening programmes Mixed Bodies: Recent
Australian Video (Brazil, 1998) and Landscape/Mediascape for the Sydney Film
Festival in 2001.
Peter Callas (1952, Australia), a prolifc and infuential video artist with an
international profle, has produced a distinctive body of single-screen videotapes
and installations via an extensive exploration of the capabilities of the Fairlight
Computer Video Instrument (CVI) (see Chapter 7). Callas has worked as video Artist
in Residence both in Japan and the USA, and has developed a distinctive graphic
approach combined with a sharply critical and satirical view of both Australian
and international politics and cultural attitudes. Initially trained as a flm editor
on Australian broadcast television, Callas began to work with video in 1980 after
attending a workshop with the American video artist and writer Douglas Davis.
Key works of the 1980s include Our Potential Allies (1980), Double Trouble (1986),
Nights High Noon: An Anti-Terrain (1988), Neo Geo; An American Purchase (1989)
(see Chapter 10).
Other artists who began working with video in this early period include Phillip
Brophy (1959, Australia), ADS (1982); Ken Unsworth (1931, Australia), Five Secular
Settings for Sculpture as Ritual and Burial place (1975) and A Diferent Drummer
(1976); Sam Schoenbaum (1947, Australia), Still Life: Breakfast Piece (1976) and
Peelin an Oran e (1976); Bob Ramsay (1950, Australia), Of Voice to Sand (1979); and
Sue Richter (1949, Australia), A Historical Tale About the Art Object (1978).
Chinese artists did not begin to work with video as an art medium until the late
1980s. Tis relatively late start when compared with countries in the West and Japan,
is partly due to the rigid guidelines for the arts as set down by Chairman Mao in
1942 at the Yenan Forum on Art and Literature. At these talks, Mao compared and
discussed his vision of the political and cultural purposes of art, allying them with the
aims and purposes of revolutionary work in general and to the task of the military in
Our aim is to ensure that revolutionary literature and art follow the correct
path of development and provide better help to other revolutionary work in
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facilitating the overthrow of our national enemy and the accomplishment of
the task of national liberation . We must also have a cultural army, which is
absolutely indispensable for uniting our own ranks and defeating the enemy.
Since the May 4th Movement such a cultural army has taken shape in China,
and it has helped the Chinese revolution, gradually reduced the domain of
Chinas feudal culture and of the comprador culture which serves imperialist
aggression, and weakened their infuence.
However, by the 1980s Chinese artists began to react against the socialist realist style
championed by the communist regime that had been the dominant and authorized
form during the previous 40 years, in favour of more radical approaches. Established
and traditional media such as painting and drawing were rejected in favour of photog-
raphy, installation, performance and video. Tese new mediums were embraced for
their potential to challenge the authority of the socialist realist style and it was in
the latter part of this decade that the frst video works by artists began to appear in
Zhang Peili (1957, China) is considered by many to be the father of Chinese
video art. His seminal video tape 30x30 (19889), generally acknowledged to be
the frst video artwork produced in China, (discussed in more detail in Chapter 12),
presents a continuous unbroken recording of the artists own gloved hands breaking a
mirror and laboriously gluing it back together again. Tis work, perhaps inspired by
the fxed-camera, single take flm and video work of North American artists such as
Michael Snow, Martha Rosler, Andy Warhol and Bruce Nauman (see Chapters 4 and
12), was Peilis response to an invitation to produce a new work for the Huangshan
Conference on Modern Art in 1988.
30x30 initiated an extended body of video-
tapes and installations during the 1990s, cementing Peilis international reputation
and infuencing subsequent generations of Chinese artists working with video such as
Zhu Jia (China, 1963), Forever (1994) and Continuous Landscape (19992000), and
Yang Zhenzhong (China, 1968) Fishbowl (1996) and I Will Die (20005).
By the mid-1990s China was opening up to the Western markets. As part of this
inevitable phenomenon, galleries and collectors were keen to acquire and sell Chinese
contemporary art abroad particularly politically inspired paintings, and this caused
a reaction among more radical young Chinese artists who were wary of being drawn
into the Western Art market, perceiving it as a form of post-colonialism. Seeking
alternatives, a new generation of Chinese artists including Qiu Zhijie (China, 1969),
Writing Te Orchid Pavilion Preface One Tousand Times (198687), Railway from
Lhasa to Kathmandu (2007), Song Dong (China,1966), Broken Mirror (1999) and
Floating (2004), began to explore the potential of video a medium which was, as
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we have seen in other countries, more resistant to the art gallery system and less easily
marketed and sold to collectors. Because of this, video had an advantage for Chinese
artists because it was seen to have an inherent defence mechanism against Western
commercial interests with the added advantage of being radically diferent in form
and content to the aesthetic of the ofcially sanctioned socialist realist style of visual
art in China.
Also, as we have seen elsewhere, accessible, relatively inexpensive and
easy to operate, with the capacity to be used to make explorations of the private and
personal, video was an attractive prospect for new and emerging artists and these
factors, combined with the mediums ability to be freely copied and distributed, made
it a natural and obvious choice.
Te frst exhibition to be devoted to video art in China was Image and
Phenomenon (1996), curated by artist and curator Qiu Zhijie and his partner Wu
Meichun. In his own practice Zhijie had rejected some of the key ideas of Peili, who
had been heavily infuenced by the approach of American video artists of the 1970s
Gary Hill in particular. For Zhijie, this earlier work constituted what he termed an
insipid tradition because of its belief in the utopian notion of the potential of video
to ofer alternatives to broadcast television and for the way that it ignored the creative
and aesthetic possibilities of more recent technological developments.
In 1997, following Image and Phenomenon Meichun and Zhijie published a set
of documents about early video works by European and American artists alongside
a commentary by contemporary Chinese artists who had begun to work with the
medium, and this became a signifcant source of information for artists exploring the
potential of video in China. Concurrently the couple organized Demonstration of
Video Art China 97 at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing.
Following this second exhibition of Chinese video art, it was clear that the reaction
to Zhijies insipid tradition had spawned a number of new directions drawing on
the potential of developing video technology such as interactivity and an exploration
of moving image alternative genres such as narrative and documentary. Wu Meichun
identifed the key issue for artists video in China in the catalogue for Demonstration
of Chinese Video Art 97:
Te problem we are facing is not what video art is, rather what we can do with
video. It is still too early to defne video art. Tough it appears that a standard
video art is coming into being, but it is destined to weary itself during its
shaping. Video with an innate media is full of challenges, which is powerful and
inexpensive. It is private and easy to duplicate and spread: it is both intuitive
and imaginative.
Wang Jianwei (1958, China) abandoned painting to work with video and theatre
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after reading the essays of Joseph Beuys translated by Wu Mali (1957, Taiwan).
Jianweis feature length videotape Living Elsewhere (1998) documents the day-to-day
existence of a group of people living in some abandoned dwellings on the edge of a
city in Sichuan.
Te infuence of Jianwei and Zhang Peili can be seen in the video works of Zhu Jia
(China, 1963), Li Yongbin (China, 1963) and Wang Gongxin (China, 1960). Work
by these artists is often a mix of sculptural elements and video installation featuring a
documentary aspect, highlighting the changes and shifts in Chinese society as a result
of recent government economic policy and reform.
Wang Gongxin spent seven years in New York during the 1990s and although his
work shows the infuence of video installations by Bill Viola and Gary Hill, it also
questions Chinese perceptions and responses to Western culture and attitudes. His
video installation Te Sky of Brooklyn (1997) comprises an upturned video monitor
displaying images of the New York sky at the bottom of a deep well. Te soundtrack is
a looped voice-over in Chinese: What are you looking at is there something worth
looking at?, spoken by Gongxin himself.
At the beginning of the millennium, two major exhibitions of Chinese video art
had a signifcant efect on the reputation of the art form both within and outside the
country. Compound Eyes: Contemporary Video Art From China (2001) toured
galleries and venues in New South Wales, Brisbane, Singapore, Hong Kong and China.
Curated by Huang Zhuan, Binghui Huangfu and Johan Pijnappel, the exhibition
featured works by Li Yongbin, Wang Gongxin, Wang Jianwei, Zhang Peili and Zhu Jia.
Synthetic Reality (2002) presented at the East Modern Art Centre in Beijing included
works by Chen Shaoxiong (China, 1962), Geng Jianyl (1962, China), Ni Haifeng
(China, 1964) and Shi Yong (China, 1963), in addition to Yongbin, Gongxin, Jianwel,
Peili and Jia, and had a comprehensive bilingual on-line catalogue.
In China artists video was not perceived as a practice in opposition to more tradi-
tional media such as painting, sculpture and printmaking, nor was it engaged with a
mission to have the medium recognized as legitimate for art practice. In his essay for
the Compound Eyes exhibition catalogue, curator Huang Zhuan describes video art
in China during the frst few decades as a forlorn player, without the opportunity
for commercial success nor the status of performance art in assuming a symbolic
role of a pioneering art form.
According to the Dutch curator Johan Pijnappel, India has never had a close
relationship with new technology, despite the countrys growing signifcance in the
development of computer software. Contemporary art is still perceived as marginal,
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with the established media of painting and sculpture remaining a dominant force in
Indian cultural life. Because of this artists in India did not begin to work with video
until the early 1990s, and even then video was initially employed as a component or
element in a wider or more diverse approach.
For example, Nalini Malani (1946,
Pakistan) produced a single channel documentary of her site-specifc installation City
of Desires (1992), and Vivan Sundaram (1943, India) incorporated video screens into
his sculpture and installation House from House/Boat (1994).
However, since the mid-1990s there has been an increasing number of younger
Indian artists working with video. Many of them frst encountered the medium
whilst studying abroad mostly in the USA, the UK and Australia, and on their
return from their studies continued to work with the medium despite the lack of
exhibition venues and funding. Tis group includes Ranbir Kaleka (1953, India);
Man with a Cockerel (2002), Subba Ghosh (India, 1961) Remains of a Breath, 2001,
Sonia Khurana (1968, India) Bird (1999), Tejal Shah (1967, India), I Love My India,
2003, and What Are You? (2006), Eleena Banik (1968, India) An Urban Scape, 2004
and Umesh Maddanahalli (1968), Between Myth and History, 2001.
Recently a few specialized galleries devoted to the medium have emerged, such as
the Apeejay Media Gallery set up in 2000 in New Dehli and run by curator Pooja
Sood (who was also responsible for the Khoj International Artists Association, see
below) and the Chemould Contemporary Art Gallery, Mumbai, established in 2007.
Although there is currently no commercial market for video and very few specialized
galleries, there is increasing interest in work from India overseas, and there have
been several signifcant international exhibitions profling the work of Indian artists:
SELF, at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane 2002; Indian Video Art: History
in Motion (2004), Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan curated by Johan
Pijnappel; and Indian Highway Contemporary Indian Video Art, a major touring
exhibition curated by Julia Peyton-Jones, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Gunnar Kvranand,
featuring the work of 24 artists (Serpentine Gallery, London (2008), the Astrup
Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2009) and the Reykjavik Art Museum,
Iceland (2010).
Shilpa Gupta (India, 1976) has been active as both a maker and a curator, selecting
works for Transformations, an exhibition within an exhibition (an integral element
of the Indian Highway touring exhibition) showcasing video work by eight emerging
artists working with the medium including Nikhil Chopra (Yog Raj Chitrakar, 2008),
Baptist Coelho (Corporal Dis(Connect)-Standard Mode & Intoxicated Mode no. 1,
2007), Sunil Gupta (Love Undetectable Nos 12, 11 and 13, 2009), Tushar Joag (Jataka
Trilogy, 2004) alongside works by Sundram, Malni and Khurana.
Guptas work is both personal and political, addressing issues relating to HIV/
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AIDS, desire, love and alienation. As with many of the most signifcant artists
working with video and new media in India, issues of politics, race, gender and
class are central, as experimental work here has sought to express a desire for social
and political change. As Johan Pijnappel points out, many of this new generation of
Indian artists were female (as is Gupta) and for many of this group of artists it seemed
video was the most appropriate medium to state their case:
video combined with installation and performance was the appropriate
way to collapse the frame, to shake things up. Apart from going on protest
marches this was another means of cultural resistance. In addition, it provided
access to new audiences and not only those accustomed to entering the white
Te gallery Nature Morte, founded in New Dehli by Peter Nagy in 2007 has
championed lens-based and video work and has had an impact on the Indian art
scene both in terms of introducing international artists and their work to India, and
bringing Indian artists to the attention of the wider art world. Nature Morte also
developed an important programme of collaborating with cultural institutions based
in India and abroad including the British Council, the Alliance Francais, the Sanskriti
Foundation, the India International Centre and the National Gallery of Modern Art,
and this policy has enriched and enhanced the standing of Indian contemporary
artists both abroad and within the country itself.
Another important factor in the opening up of artists video in India was the Khoj
International Artists Association in New Delhi, a member of the Triangle Arts Trust
(TAT), an international network of artists, visual art organizations, and artist-led
Khoj was instrumental in providing opportunities for artists to exper-
iment with new media and perhaps most signifcantly, it opened up the potential
of art production free from the commodity-oriented commercial gallery system.
According to Mumbai-based writer and critic Nancy Adajania, the Khoj workshops:
lively laboratory atmosphere brought Indian cultural producers into close
communion with their colleagues from other countries, breaking down the
nation-centric self-discourse then in force. Khoj emphasised the importance
of process over product: sculptors could work with installations, painters with
performance art and the rudiments of video art and public art were put into
place here.
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British video art mythology has its own parallel to the Paik Portapak story. In 1969
John Hopkins (1937, UK) (known to the alternative video community as Hoppy)
on his way home from a visit to Italy made a side trip to Sony UK headquarters near
Heathrow airport and convinced them to loan him a Portapak and playback unit
in exchange for a written report on the new video formats value to alternative and
community users.
Hopkins used this loaned equipment as part of an initiative to equip a new radical
video group called TVX, a counter-cultural organization to use electronic media in
relation to broadcast TV as a parallel to the activities of the London flmmakers co-op.
Writing in the 1976 edition of Studio International dedicated to Video Art, Hopkins
and his collaborator Sue Hall (1948, UK) began their article Te Metasoftware of
Video with a direct and fundamental question: Video exists. Terefore the next
thing to ask is what can one do with it?
In this short article discussing the potential of video for social and political
change, using concepts drawn largely from communications theory, the Portapak was
identifed as the basic means of the individual decentralization of TV technology.
For Hopkins and Hall, video represented a feld of largely unexplored potential. Teir
article identifed some signifcant characteristics and potential for change inherent in
the technology:
Decentralization, fexibility, immediacy of playback, speed of light transmission,
global transmission pathways, input to two of the senses these are character-
istics not yet shared by any other medium.
Although neither Hall nor Hopkins considered themselves artists, they had a clear
view of the value and signifcance of video made by artists within a broader cultural
context. Quoting from the selected works of Mao Tse Tung, their article ends with a
direct challenge to artists who aspired to experiment with video technology:
Why should art be the domain of the few and not the many? Shouldnt democra-
tization of culture, and in our case the liberation of communications technology
for public access, be an integral part of our actual art activity? We demand the
unity of technology, art and politics; the unity of information, meaning and
Te video co-operative TVX was founded in 1969 as part of the Institute for Research
into Art and Technology (IRAT), to attract funding. Te same year IRAT/TVX
founded the New Arts Lab in collaboration with the London Filmmakers Co-op,
where there were regular screenings of videotapes by artists and video groups from the
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UK and the United States. Around this time Hopkins also published a column in Te
International Times, the style and tone of which sums up his attitude to broadcast TV,
and his enthusiasm for the potentially liberating power of portable video:
Tonights topic is VIDEO . Here it is at last: you can make your own TV and
its so easy to operate anyone can do it. All that crap about directors, producers,
camera crews forget it.
During 1969 Hopkins had visited the United States and made a survey of the
American experimental video scene, returning to the UK with renewed enthusiasm
for the broadcast potential of low-gauge video. Te following year TVX was commis-
sioned by BBC TV to produce some pilot experimental video programmes, two of
which were broadcast. In the years that followed, Hopkins continued to campaign for
the broadcast of low-gauge video, initially achieving some success. For Hopkins, the
issue of low-gauge broadcasting was linked to editorial and creative control and this
relationship between accessible formats and radical content was central to his interest
in video as a tool for cultural and social change.
In that early period the link between video art and television was crucial, as
there was no viable alternative means of disseminating video images. Reporting on
the state of video art in Britain in 1974, the writer and broadcaster Edward Lucie-
Smith presented a gloomy and parochial picture in comparison with the American
the technical sophistication of ofcial television, by which I mean the
product of the big networks, has tended to discourage personal experiment in a
number of subtle ways. For example, whilst the artist still hoped to gain access
to the BBC or one of the independent television companies, it hardly seemed
worth it to use the comparatively crude equipment available to him outside. In
addition, he soon discovered that, if he ofered material he had made himself, on
-inch or -inch tape, this would almost inevitably be rejected as technically
unacceptable for transmission.
Tis technical impasse was certainly encountered by Hopkins group TVX and by
numerous other video artists, but it was also a problem that had dogged some of
the more progressive individuals working from within broadcast television. BBC
Producer Mark Kidel, responsible for some of the earliest broadcasting of British
video art, reported on the confict between broadcast television and video art:
When Arena: Art and Design, BBC 2s visual arts programme, recently
transmitted a selection of work by British and American video artists, a special
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directive had to be sent to every single transmitter in the country, preparing
them for irregularities in the material. Without this warning, transmission
would have been interrupted, as the machinery is programmed to reject anything
sub-standard. A case of censorship, or just a case of technological indigestion?
Te incident is symptomatic of a situation where, although the content and style
of video art are intimately related to the substance of broadcast TV, the two are
split by an almost unbridgeable estrangement.
For many British (and other) video artists, television became the cultural and institu-
tional opponent. Technically superior, and with access to mass audiences, it was also
seen as monopolistic and unimaginative. For the most part artists saw the broadcast
television of the day as the purveyor of visual experiences that were the antitheses of
art. Broadcast TV and video art were seen by many as antagonistic, or at best, incom-
patible with each other.
Writer and video artist Mick Hartneys assertion is that TV seduces rather than
assaults. In an attempt to outline the early British context, Hartney (1946, UK)
2.11: TVX, Area Code 613, 1969. Photographer, John Hoppy Hopkins.
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examined the implied symmetry of empowerment implicit in Paiks previously
quoted slogan (TV has been attacking us now we can attack it back.) to
one which suggests that with the advent of low-cost accessible video technology it
would be possible to mount a counter-attack to broadcast TV. In Hartneys view
the appeal of Paiks declaration was more emotional than logical. Paraphrasing
Paik, Hartney proceeded to sketch out the UK television broadcast situation.
Since the broadcast monopoly had efectively ceased in 1955 with the advent
of commercial television, British television in the 1960s was a seething arena of
contending attitudes and cultures. Moreover, Hartney pointed out that access for
potential innovators was not impossible:
Ironically those who had the determination to force an entry, or the opportunity
to apply or who had something original to say or show, soon found that they
were heaving against an open door.
Hartney identifed artists and independent video makers working outside television
as a diverse but specialized interest group the we of Paiks implied united retali-
atory artists and independents were in fact often blatantly opposed to each others
intentions and viewpoints. Tere was a clearly identifable discursive tension between
artists interested in the development of formal concerns and socio-political activists,
despite their superfcially united front in the fght for recognition and broadcast
Although this tense relationship between video art and broadcast television was
signifcant, it was by no means the only issue, but one of a number of interrelated
factors to be taken into account in relation to the development of artists video.
As in the United States, and elsewhere, the British video art scene arose out of a
combination of events that included the development of accessible video technology,
the concerns of minimal and Conceptual Art, the sensibilities and preoccupations
of the so-called underground political movement and the model of independent/
experimental cinema.
Reviewing the situation from the 1990s, video artist David Hall identifed early
video art in the UK with a conceptualist rather than formalist approach, which he
claimed separated it from much of the flmmaking of the late 1960s and early 1970s:
In the early work, processes of deconstruction were evident from the outset
unique video refexivity was sometimes a component utilized as part
of the formal matrix but rarely the prime objective of the work. Equally,
whilst occasionally echoing contemporary formal devices, concern only for a
foregrounding of the signifer was rare . Nevertheless some artists initially
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sought to detach themselves from dominant modes of expression, primarily in
the use of the signifer and its technology, necessitating investigation into not
only the mediums technological properties but also (by evident implication if
not direct engagement) the political structures employed in television.
In 1971 David Hall broadcast TV Pieces on Scottish television (STV) during the
Edinburgh Festival. Screened unannounced between regular evening programming,
these pioneering works were intended to create a break in the fow of the viewers
potential relationship to his/her television receiver.
Hall was staking a claim for video art as an autonomous art form, and indicating
that previous critical writing had either been simply descriptive or attempted to
defne video solely in relation to broadcast television. Hall felt the reasons for this
were twofold: 1) In contrast to painting, sculpture and flm, there was no historical
precedence and/or established practice for video art from which it could develop a
theoretical and critical base, and 2) a reluctance on the part of the art establishment
to embrace the discourse of electronic media.
As his contribution to Locations Edinburgh, part of the Edinburgh Festival, Hall
produced ten short television pieces. From these original works, broadcast two or
three times per day over a period of ten days during August and September 1971,
seven were later selected for tape distribution under the title 7 TV Pieces (1971). In
their compiled videotape form these works can now be read very diferently, and to
understand their original context one must refer back to Halls original interventionist
Te idea of inserting them as interruptions to regular programmes was crucial
and a major infuence on their content . Tese transmissions were a surprise,
a mystery, no explanations, no excuses.
Although these television interventions were shot on 16 mm flm, they were made
specifcally for the TV context, to be shown on the box, and take account of the
specifc properties of television as an object in the domestic environment. Halls
earlier flm work, primarily designed for projection, such as Vertical (1970), had been
an extension of his previous concerns with contradictory visual perspective. Funded
by the Arts Council of Great Britain as one of a series of documentaries featuring
contemporary artists work, Vertical extended Halls sculptural ideas into flmic space.
Abandoning physical structure altogether, the flm itself became the work. Halls
interest in video initially sprang from an interest in reaching a diferent kind of
audience from the gallery-going public.
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it seemed to me that using flm. i.e. like cinema, and using video, like
television, or better still on television, seemed to me to be a much more appro-
priate place to be as an artist.
TV Pieces further developed and extended Halls notions of the flm as artwork and
flmic perspective to include the illusory space behind the TV screen. In an entirely
consistent manner the TV pieces adopt a formal approach that was specifc to the
medium of television. TV Pieces were clearly intended for the broadcast context, and
Hall claimed that they were not works of art, but an attempt to draw the viewers
attention to the nature of the broadcast experience.
David Halls Tis is a Video Monitor (1974) is built from a systematically degen-
erated repeating sequence of a close-up of a womans face and voice as she describes
the technical functions and principles of the television display on which she appears.
Te tape was remade for the 1976 BBC Arena Art & Design broadcast as Tis is
2.12: David Hall, TV Interruptions, 1971. Courtesy of the artist.
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a Television Receiver, when the face and voice of the woman was replaced by the
familiar and iconic representation of newscaster Richard Baker. Shot in colour in a
BBC TV studio, this tape has become perhaps Halls best-known work, symbolic
of a whole generation of video artworks made in the UK in the mid-1970s (see
Chapter 8).
In the period between 1971 and 1978, Hall was concerned to defne his aesthetic
practice to distinguish authentic Video Art from what he termed Artists Video;
the documentation of art activities primarily manifested on video. In his practice and
through his writing and teaching in this period, Hall advocated a rigorous, refexive
and often didactic approach, working to defne a practice for video art as distinct
from flm.
In an essay in Art & Artists magazine about Te Video Show (1975), Serpentine
Gallery, London, Hall discusses the particularities of the video medium in relation
to those of flm. He suggests the potential signifcant relationship between a consid-
eration of duration as object, establishing an important link with Conceptual Art:
It is the fact that a video signal is transferred as an invisible stream along the
length of the tape, compared to being a series of very apparent separate frames,
which precludes the process conscious tape-maker from considering it in
segmented plastic terms. It can only be regarded in total as a plastic equivalent
to its duration . Te developing involvement with the medium has a historical
rationality when considering recent moves from object-orientated art to process
art where time-span becomes an intrinsic substance.
In Towards an Autonomous Practice Halls purpose is clearly stated: not to
elaborate on the position of artwork using video, but rather to tentatively examine
video as the artwork.
In this important essay Hall set out his ideas and principles,
indicating that video should be understood with reference to its fundamental
inherent properties and specifc technical characteristics. For Hall, video as art was
work that acknowledged the crucial presence of the television monitor display as an
irrevocable presence which in itself contributed from the outset to the dissolution
of the image.
In his essay Materialism and Meaning John Byrne contrasts the diferences of
approach between Stuart Marshalls examinations of the shift in development of
British experimental video from modernist to postmodernist concerns, with David
Halls view of the theoretical intentions of early British work. Marshall maintains that
there was a convergence between a Greenbergian modernist project which explored
and foregrounded the specifcity of the medium, and later documentary and narrative-
based concerns, further strengthened by the infuence of feminist art practice.
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Marshall, postmodernist video was primarily concerned with the deconstruction of
narrativity as the dominant social discourse in television.
Byrne emphasized Halls contention that Marshalls view was an over-simplif-
cation, both in terms of the development of video practice, and signifcantly, of the
concerns and intentions of earlier video work. Hall claimed that the most signifcant
early work sought to challenge the viewers expectations by foregrounding the under-
lying properties of the illusion. Tus formal experimentation in video was in the
service of anti-illusion. In Halls view the early video work was more frmly linked to
this kind of conceptualist practice, in contrast to British Structural-Materialist flm
of the 1970s, which sought to present flm-as-flm, seeking what could be under-
stood as pure cinema (see Chapter 4) ofering the potential of a relative freedom
from the formalist object.
In Halls view the relationship of early modernist video to an examination of
its inherent properties was frst and foremost political in that it constituted a
questioning of the televisual message and a critique of the structures of broadcast
Tis attitude is not only apparent in David Halls video tape work, it is also a
crucial aspect of his installations, as Sean Cubitt points out in his analysis of Halls
installation A Situation Envisaged: Te Rite II (1988). Cubitt identifes the ambitious
nature of Halls installation, which sought a purifcation of television through the
medium of video sculpture, attempting to produce an awareness of the potential for
television as a medium without content.
A Situation Envisaged comprises ffteen television sets stacked in a monolithic
formation in which the screens are all turned towards the wall with the exception
of a single monitor that displays a low-resolution image of the moon.
Te stacked
monitors are tuned to receive broadcast images that can only be seen in refection to
form an aurora of moving changing light around the stack.
Te sculpture also has
a soundtrack derived from broadcast television programmes that have been composed
as a musical score.
For Cubitt, Rite II deconstructs TVs rigidly structured organization of time into
schedules, time-slots and narratives etc., in favour of a fuid subjectivity. Te instal-
lation presents TV in perpetual change, as opposed to endless repetition. In this sense
Halls installation can be perceived as utopian attempting to free the spectator from
established ideological representation:
At once focusing on and undermining the nature of TV as fow, as a medium
without content, he makes us aware of the processes in which TV produces itself
as content, and us as its subjects, whilst simultaneously removing the chains of
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subject formation, subjection, that normally binds us to the administration of
time, the time-budget of T.V.
David Halls use of the sculptural installation format in Rite II can also be understood
as a strategy to critique the problematic of the broadcasting of video art. Te instal-
lation seems to address broadcast television as a phenomenon, and as problematic
simultaneously avoiding the issue of content within the screen, and identifying the
role of the artist as, in some signifcant sense, transcendent.
Compared with the potential for video art as installation, Hall is less satisfed
with the single-screen format of video art, identifying the form as problematic with
reference to its context. For Hall, video art intended to be shown on a single screen is
inevitably understood or interpreted in relation to broadcast television:
Im less enthusiastic about single-screen video works, because they seem to have
no place. Tey are peculiar hybrids. Te point is when you are looking at a
2.13: David Hall, A Situation Envisaged: The Rite, 1980. Courtesy of the artist.
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videotape, as far as Im concerned, there is inevitably this infuence of television
on your reading of it. Its not a pure form. But what is a pure form? Painting of
course has grown out of painting but the thing about video is that its come out
of television. Te reading of it is incredibly dependent upon, whether the viewer
likes it or not, the phenomenology of TV.
David Hall also identifed the signifcance and crucial role of the art school in terms
of access to technical facilities and resources on the development of British video art
in the 1989 Video Positive Catalogue:
Video art emerged out of, and has been sustained by art colleges in this country
not only because of an emphatic and progressive context but also out of
necessity, since colleges of art have been the main providers of the essential
and expensive hardware. Many artists in Britain have been dependent on their
connections with these facilities in one way or another since the early seventies.
Occasional excursions into the use of commercial equipment are attractive
but economically prohibitive especially if considerable time is required for
experimentation . A video artist, unlike a painter cannot function without
considerable support.
Hall founded the audio-visual workshop at Maidstone College of Art in 1972. Tis
was the frst of a growing number of educational institutions with fne art depart-
ments in the UK that established areas to encourage experimentation with video
media in the early to mid-1970s. By 1975 a signifcant number of art schools had
thriving video and flm cultures, with facilities used not only by students but also
by the practicing artists who taught them, both as part-time and permanent staf.
Among these were Newcastle and Shefeld Polytechnics, St. Martins School of Art
in London, as well as fne art departments at Coventry, Brighton, Hull, Cardif and
Wolverhampton as well as the Environmental Media department at the Royal College
of Art.
Te Arts Council of Great Britain funded a series of residencies at a number of art
school video departments including Maidstone College of Art, Brighton, Newcastle
and Shefeld Polytechnics during the 1970s and early 1980s which gave artists access
to facilities, and provided students with an increased awareness of the potential
of video as an art form. Artists doing residences during this period included Elsa
Stansfeld, and Judith Goddard (Maidstone); Steve Hawley, Richard Layzell, Neil
Armstrong, and Steve Littman (Brighton); Ian Bourne (Shefeld) and Andrew Stones
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Tis fertile ground nurtured a new generation of artists committed to video as an
art form. In 1972 Clive Richardson (1944, UK) produced a series of video sketches
whilst a student at the Royal College of Art in London. Tis series of short works
presented investigations into the illusionistic conventions of the TV monitor, in
which the scale of the video image and the scale of the original subject were an
important and crucial aspect. For example, in Balloon (1972) the artist slowly infates
a toy balloon as the camera zooms out, maintaining the relative size of the object in
question, whilst the artists head reduces in size, only to be re-infated as the air is
slowly released from the balloon, and the camera zooms back in.
Steve Partridge (1953, UK) who studied at Maidstone and at the Royal
College of Art in the early mid-1970s produced Monitor (1975) a videotape that
in many ways epitomized the approach of tape-based work by British artists at
the time. Partridge described Monitor as: A careful reorganization of time scales
and images of a revolving monitor which produces a disorienting temporal and
spatial collage (see Chapter 8).
2.14: Stephen Partridge, Monitor, 1975. Courtesy of the artist.
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Tamara Krikorian (19442009, UK) produced a number of important works
during the 1970s including multi-screen installations such as Breeze (1975) a four-
channel videotape installation of images of fowing water exploiting the extreme
image contrast fuctuations of the monochrome video camera which both evoked
the landscape tradition in British art and asserted the video mediums presence in the
representation of the subject. Disintegrating Forms (1976) featured video sequences
of dissipating clouds displayed on monitors perched atop tall plinths above the heads
of gallery visitors. Te monochromatic images became almost indistinguishable from
the blank television screens as the low-resolution images gradually failed to resolve an
overcast sky. Krikorians videotape Vanitas (1976) draws on traditions derived from
French painting, but the work also refers to and comments on the ephemeral nature
of the broadcast TV image, which incidentally features images of the BBC newscaster
Richard Baker, the presenter who appears in David Halls 1976 BBC remake of Tis
is a Television Monitor.
2.15: Tamara Krikorian, Disintegrating Forms, Video Installation, 1976. Courtesy of the artist.
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Artists working with video in this period did not restrict themselves to pre-recorded
works. Brian Hoey (1950, UK) presented Videvent (19735) a series of live instal-
lation presentations at art schools and other venues including Te Slade School of
Art, Exeter College of Art, University College, London and Te Serpentine Gallery.
Hoey had become interested in experimenting with the interaction between imaging
systems and participant observers.
Videvent employed two video recorders to create a tape-loop feedback system; it
made use of the time delay created between the record head of one machine and the
playback head of the second. A video camera was focused on the participant and
connected to the frst recorder; the delayed image from the second recorder was then
mixed with the frst to build a gradually accumulating image sequence displayed on a
single monitor. Hoey saw this directly interactive and live approach to art as crucial
to maintaining contact with his audience:
For a system in which the spectator is participating with aspects of his own
appearance or behaviour the most suitable medium appeared to be video, as
2.16: Brian Hoey, Videvent, 19756. Courtesy of the artist.
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it provides the basis for a real-time relation of events coupled with the ability
to modify images in a fuid organic manner. Practical possibilities include the
manipulation of the participant in time: he may be seeing himself in the past
with his actions over a period of time built up as a composite picture.
Roger Barnards Corridor (19734) also made use of a mix of live and pre-recorded
video images displayed on a single monitor. Placed at the end of a specially
constructed corridor, pre-recorded images of spectators from the past were superim-
posed onto spectators from the present. In Barnards installation only the time-image
was changed, whereas images of static objects such as walls and foor and objects
within the space remained the same. Te installation was concerned with the contrast
and interplay between the real and the televisual, with the video image presented as
way of expressing ideas related to consciousness and perception:
We and the environment in which we live consist of matter at diferent densities
and in diferent states and stages of becoming. You exist in all spatial planes
between your physical being and my mind in forms other than that of your own
physical being.
Steve Partridges Installation No. 1 (1976) also explored and manipulated space-time
confgurations, this time using a custom-made Automatic Video Switcher (AVS),
which he designed with a colleague at the Royal College of Art. Tis programmable
2.17: David Hall and Tony Sinden, 101 TV Sets. 1975. Courtesy of the artists.
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switcher enabled Partridge to produce a four-camera / four-monitor installation in
which time and space can be altered within a structural and programmed format.
In collaboration with flm and video artist Tony Sinden (19462009, UK), David
Hall produced an infuential multi-screen installation entitled 60 TV Sets in 1972,
later restaged at the Serpentine video show as 101 TV Sets. Although this work
2.18: Tony Sinden, Behold Vertical Devices, sketch, 1975. Courtesy of the artist.
2.19: Tony Sinden, Behold Vertical Devices, 1975. Courtesy of the artist.
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involved no video recording or live camera images, instead consisting of mis-tuned
broadcast television signals, it was an important precursor to video installation work
produced later in the decade.
Tony Sinden produced a number of sculptural video installations himself,
including Be/Hold/Vertical/Devices (1975) and Step Sequence (19767). Tese works
were signifcant and infuential because of the playful and innovative deployment of
the TV monitor and repeating image display as the principle building block within a
larger sculptural construction.
A number of important feminist artists including Rose Garrard (1946, UK) and
Tina Keane (1948, UK) began working with videotape and installation in the latter
half of the 1970s, drawing on earlier work based in performance and live art. Garrard,
who frst used video to document her live work, made Tumbled Frame (1984) as part
of Artists Works for Television produced by Anna Ridley for Channel 4. Tina Keane
made sculptural installations such as Playpen (1979) and Te Swing (1978), using
a combination of live video camera display, installation and performance. Tese
works drew on the complex relationship between personal and private spaces that the
2.20: Tina Keane, The Swing, 1978. Courtesy of the artist.
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closed-circuit video system enabled, and corresponded to issues of the personal as
political which many feminist artists of the period sought to explore.
David Critchley produced a number of works which explored the relationship
between live performance and videotaped presentation including Static Acceleration
(1976) and Pieces I Never Did (1979), which chronicles a series of short works he
had planned but never previously got around to making. Critchley (1953, UK)
addresses his audience directly, explaining and then restaging the works especially for
the camera.
Mick Hartneys (1946, UK) State of Division (1979) draws on the performance
tradition using the image of the artist directly addressing his audience too, but here
the message is directly related to the video medium, with states of alienation and
isolation presented using aspects associated with television technology including
multiple images, grainy low-resolution, and loss of focus.
2.21: David Critchley, Static Acceleration, 1976. Courtesy of the artist.
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Whilst all of these works demonstrated the potential for video installation as a
sculptural medium, with the television box as a building block or component, many
also explored the creative potential of the live camera/ monitor confguration in a way
that involved and encouraged an interaction between the spectator, the performer and
the work. Te spectator could be seen as simultaneously a participant and the subject
of the work, involved and implicated directly in the decoding and functioning of the
installation. Tese works also challenged conventional notions about the relationship
between the artist and the spectator, and paved the way for the acceptance of video
installations as an art gallery phenomenon.
David Halls curatorial infuence included the frst major exhibition of video art in
the UK at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1975. Organized by Sue Grayson, this
exhibition drew on the expertise of a committee of advisors that included Hall along
with art critic William Feaver, broadcaster Stuart Hood and cultural consultant Clive
Scollay. Tis month-long show was a mixed collection of independent work including
2.22: David Critchley, Pieces I Never Did, 1979. Courtesy of the artist.
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single-screen tapes, installations, lectures, presentations, events and performances by
artists and video activists from the UK and a number of other countries, including the
USA, Canada and the Netherlands. Many of these individuals had previously been
working in near isolation, and much of the work presented, as well as the optimistic
catalogue statements, demonstrated an idealistic enthusiasm fuelled by a sense that
the new medium of video would herald a technological and socio-cultural revolution.
Tere was a strong sense that artists and video activists alike perceived their work as
being in opposition to broadcast television. Stuart Marshall (194993, UK), himself
among those early video artists and an infuential writer and commentator on video
art practice, observed that many early video artists statements read like political
diatribes against the television institution, and that these same artists were surprised
to discover a common purpose in seeking a language and context in which to critique
conventional broadcast TV.
As a direct consequence of Te Video Show, a number of these artists (including
Roger Barnard, David Critchley, Tamara Krikorian, Stuart Marshall, Steven Partridge,
and Brian Hoey) formed a pressure group under the leadership of David Hall, which
led to the establishing of London Video Arts in the summer of 1976. Although London
Video Arts (LVA), as it was more generally known, was formed initially as an organi-
zation to distribute and screen video artwork, it was also keen to promote the issue of
artists video, to lobby for funding, bursaries and eventually for the establishment of
production and post-production facilities. Initially set up in Halls fat in Brixton, South
London, premises were soon moved to Little Newport Street in Londons West End.
In From Art to Independence Stuart Marshall stresses the signifcance of the
relationship between LVA, the development of video art in the UK and the art school
An aspect of the early membership of LVA which was specifc to video was that
almost all of the frst steering committee members were, or were to become, in
some way related to colleges and schools of art. At this time many art colleges
were setting up media departments and investing in video technology. Tis came
as a response to both the new developments in the cross-fertilization in the arts
and the increasing institutional fascination with new information technology
which was making its presence felt in the form of audio-visual aids in media-
dependent teaching practices. Early British video therefore became inextricably
linked with undergraduate and post-graduate education, both in terms of its
means of production and the development of its aesthetic.
Te launch of the frst LVA distribution catalogue was timed to correspond with the
inaugural screening at the Air Gallery in Londons Covent Garden in October 1978.
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Tis was a signifcant event, and it marked a realization of the frst two of LVAs
declared goals.
David Halls presence at this event was conspicuous; his infuence over the devel-
opment of video art in the UK was at its peak. Trough a combination of polemical
writing, teaching, the promotion of video art and his own video work, Hall estab-
lished a tradition of video that was pure, formal and rigorous. Mick Hartney points
out that Halls extreme position commanded respect, producing a body of work of
consistent purity a rarity in the diversity of contemporary video culture, but it also
produced work that could be extremely restrictive and predictable:
Much of the work embraced by this prescription had many virtues: it could be
intelligent, serious and often very elegant. It was capable of bearing the weight
of complex theoretical exegeses. some of the single-screen work on the other
hand could be extremely boring, even for other video artists. Adherence to a
predetermined process in the production of a tape often meant that the viewer
knew precisely what was going to happen long before it did.
During this early period, the artists associated with LVA were almost exclusively
associated with aesthetic concerns derived from modernism. Avant-garde art practice
was at this time dominated by a refusal of representation. In painting and sculpture
this had resulted in the play of signifers emancipated from the tyranny of the
and in video and flm (and to some extent, photographic practice), it gave
rise to an exploration of the inherent properties of these respective media. Video
artists sought to explore their medium by examining the image making mechanisms
that were specifc to video, and this placed them in an oppositional stance to the
institution of television, as well as to the broader history of fne art. Video artists of
the period saw themselves as seeking to defne a grammar or language that was specifc
to video a syntax that was inherent to the medium and free from the conventions
of broadcast TV.
In the UK this group of artists had a considerable impact on video practice in the
period between 1976 and the early 1980s and beyond. Trough LVA they initiated
and organized a number of important and infuential exhibitions notably at the
Tate Gallery, London (1976), the Tird Eye Centre, Glasgow (1976), the Herbert Art
Gallery, Coventry (1978), as well as regular screenings at the Acme and Air Galleries
in London.
Peter Donebauers (1947, UK) work with abstract colour video imagery was
distinctly diferent in approach and concept to the practice and ideas championed
by David Hall and others associated with LVA. In 1979 Donebauer formed VAMP
(Video and Music Performances) with musician Simon Desorgher and conducted
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a national tour of live video and music works following the development of
his Videokalos Image Processor. Donebauers work gained some signifcant early
attention, and he was the frst UK video artist to attract funding from both the Arts
Council of Great Britain and the British Film Institute and to have his work broadcast
on national television on the BBC arts programme Second House in 1974 (see
Chapters 7 and 10 for a more detailed discussion of Donebauers work and ideas).
Brian Hoey and Wendy Brown, joint artists-in-residence in Washington New
Town in the north of England, organized Artists Video: An Alternative Use of the
Medium in 1976. Tis exhibition became an important annual event for the next fve
years, showcasing new video work by a number of important British and international
video artists including Tom Dewitt and Vibeke Sorenson (USA), Dan Sandin (USA),
Tom Defanti (USA), Peter Donebauer (UK), Jean Brisson (France), Kit Fitzgerald
and John Sanborn (USA), Sanja Ivekovic and Dalibor Martinis (Yugoslavia), Elsa
Stansfeld and Madelon Hooykaas (Netherlands/UK), Steve Partridge (UK), Tamara
Krikorian (UK), David Critchley (UK), Ed Emshwiller (USA), Sue Hall and John
Hopkins (UK), David Hall (UK), Stuart Marshall (UK), Ronald Nameth (USA),
Ira Schneider (USA), Ture Sjlander (Sweden), Tony Sinden (UK), the Vasulkas
(USA), Mick Hartney (UK), Richard Monkhouse (UK), Bill Viola (USA), Rene
Bauermeister (Switzerland), Steven Beck (USA), Peter Campus (USA), Marceline
Mori (France/UK), Marianne Heske (Norway), Nan Hoover (Netherlands) and
Claudio Ambrosini (Italy).
During this early formative period LVA also established a distribution network,
publishing a catalogue to promote their work, and were responsible for the publi-
cation of most of the written criticism and theoretical writing on video art practice
in the UK. Trough this activity of self-validation the modernist practice established
a foundation for later artists, but also restricted and divided the independent video
community in the UK, alienating and marginalizing alternative approaches to video
within a fne art context.
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In the latter part of the 1960s the spectre of war was once again the dominant issue.
Te United States was deeply involved in the confict in Vietnam, and as with the
Korean War in the 1950s, this fact was impossible for the people and governments
of Western Europe to ignore. Te French, who had experienced and lost similar
protracted guerrilla conficts in Algeria and Indochina, advised the USA to withdraw.
Te Scandinavians and the Dutch were deeply opposed to the war on humanitarian
grounds, and those countries with governments who had signifcant economic
relationships with the US; the UK, West Germany and Italy gave the USA at least a
qualifed support, although public opinion was mixed.
In Europe the so-called Cold War the confict between the Western democracies
and the USSR, which had emerged during the 1950s, continued throughout this
period, but compared with the tensions of the previous decade, the issues raised by
the Vietnam War gave a sense that a new era of uncertainty and political change was
about to emerge.
In France an alliance between the communists and the socialists threatened to
destabilize an eleven-year domination of the government by Charles De Gaulle. Just
as it seemed that the Left would wrest power from De Gaulle, a wave of student
protests and violence during May 1968 disrupted the Left and enabled the Gaullists
to re-establish order.
In April 1968 there had been a number of violent student protests in West German
Universities similar to those that had occurred in Paris. Tese students, many born
after the end of World War II, felt remote from the events which had torn Europe
apart. Tis new generation wanted to see an end to the stigma of guilt and a resto-
ration of the status of Germany as a nation within Europe.
In parallel with this pressure for changes to the governing of the country, students
in France, West Germany, Italy and the UK demanded changes to the way in which
universities were organized and administered, as well as changes to the curriculum.
In the 1960s many new universities were created, with a subsequent and inevitable
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increase in teaching posts and student numbers. Across Western Europe a new gener-
ation of academics sought to expand and transform the curriculum and to develop
new courses and disciplines. Troughout Western Europe generally the structures of
government and society remained, but underlying attitudes had been transformed
which set the stage for sweeping changes in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Te infuence of the Situationists and the political critique of Guy Debord (193194,
France), one of its principle founders, on the student activists in Paris and elsewhere
during the 1968 demonstrations was signifcant. Set up in 1957 from an amalga-
mation of a number of European radical artists groups including the London
Psychogeographical Association (LPA), CoBrA, and the Letterist International (LI),
the Situationist International (SI) sought to build a new society in which traditional
art was abandoned in favour of an enriched urban existence. As Asger Jorn (191473,
Denmark) one of the main protagonists of the group wrote of Situationism:
Visual art was a useless medium for creativity and thinking. It was the radiation
of art into pure existence, into social life, into urbanism, into action, and into
thinking, which was regarded as the important thing.
A number of the Situationists were directly involved in the Paris uprisings during
the Nanterre occupation, fomenting unrest and organizing student protesters.
Posters produced by art students during the riots and demonstrations took up ideas
and slogans directly infuenced by Situationist rhetoric: Are You Consumers or
Participants? Art Does not Exist Art is You, and Propaganda Comes into Your
Home, the caption for a poster depicting a forest of television aerials among urban
rooftops. Te perception of television as a major tool in the state apparatus, a force
of control and manipulation propagated by the selective presentation of information
and the presentation of false and distorted images of reality, was part of a growing
public awareness. In Te Society of Spectacle (1967) Guy Debord identifed a crises of
alienation in a society of conspicuous consumption, that struck a chord with many
artists and political activists in Western Europe and North America:
the individuals gestures are no longer his own, but rather those of someone
who represents them to him. Te spectator feels at home nowhere, for the
spectacle is everywhere.
It is clear that industrial/military technological research and development during the
1960s was directly responsible for the introduction of the frst relatively inexpensive
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portable non-broadcast video equipment. Demand for compact, inexpensive machines
for airborne surveillance operations during the war in Viet Nam opened the way for
more peaceful, though certainly subversive cultural projects.
A lot of people think that Sony developed the Portapak for artists and
community groups, but nothing could be further from the truth! Tey were
actually developed for the American military to use in their planes during the
Vietnam War. Te frst Portapaks were entirely in the hands of the military
and they were basically to check where their napalm or bombs had gone.
Like virtually everything in our society, the driving force is actually conquest.
Whether its successful, or as in this case, happily unsuccessful.
As in Western Europe, the 1960s had been a decade of social, cultural and political
change in the USA. Tis period saw the rise of a new youth culture (in 1968, 50 per
cent of the population in the United States was under the age of 25). Experienced
at civil rights confrontations and highly critical of American military involvement
in Viet Nam, they were politically active and fuelled with a desire for a greater
participation in the democratic process and with a growing awareness of the power of
cultural production. Tis cultural imperative swelled into a movement, and increas-
ingly viewed accessible video and computer technology as major components in an
arsenal of radical cultural tools. Te formation of media collectives such as the New
York-based Raindance Corporation grew as much out of a shared cultural imperative
as from a pragmatic need to pool and share equipment. Tis combination of political
theorists, artists and activists believed that radical social change was possible. Artists
and activists alike saw accessible low-cost video as a radical alternative to commercial
television. Te frst issue of Radical Software, published by the Raindance Corporation
in 1970 stated:
Unless we design and implement alternate information structures which
transcend and reconfgure the existing ones, our alternate systems and life styles
will be no more than products of the existing process.
During this early period of innocence, the newly accessible low-cost video recording
equipment gave rise to an optimistic and enthusiastic wave of experimentation which
inspired and united artists, video activists and groups of individuals committed to
social and political reform. All of these groups saw a potential in portable video
technology to challenge the status quo in a wide range of areas which included
broadcast television, the art gallery structure and social and political inequality.
Although this enthusiasm for new video technology can be seen to have begun in
the United States in the mid-1960s, it soon spread to other countries, including the
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United Kingdom, West Germany, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Canada and
During the winter of 19678 abstract painter turned media activist Frank Gillette
(1941, USA) was engaged to run a seminar on the ideas and theories of Marshall
McLuhan (191180, Canada) at the Free University in New York City. Gillettes
fascination with McLuhans ideas had led him to meet Paul Ryan, McLuhans
research assistant in the Centre for Media Understanding at Fordham University,
who arranged for the loan of video equipment during the spring and summer of
1968, including Portapaks, cameras and playback equipment, which Gillette experi-
mented with at his 6th St. studio. During this period Gillette met other video
enthusiasts including David Cort, Howard Gutstadt, Victor Gioscia and together
they formed Commediation, a discussion group with irregular meetings attended
by Nam June Paik, Eric Siegal and Les Levine. Gillette and Gioscia had much in
common, including an interest in the potential of video as a vehicle for social and
political change infuenced by the ideas of Gregory Bateson, McLuhan and Warren
Working with Ira Schneider (1939, USA), a close colleague and a flmmaker with
a scientifc background, Gillette proposed the construction of a complex multi-screen
installation entitled Wipe Cycle (1969) for TV As a Creative Medium, the frst
gallery exhibition to be devoted entirely to video art in the USA, at the Howard Wise
Gallery in New York in 1969.
Wipe Cycle combined the interests and ideas of Schneider and Gillette, drawing on
Gillettes experiments with the new medium the previous summer and Schneiders
fascination for the potential of live interaction and video delay. Wipe Cycle, which
required the building of customized electronics to mix the multiple images, consisted
of a bank of nine monitors in a 3 x 3 confguration, with four screens displaying
pre-recorded of-air material and the other fve showing live and delayed video
sequences of gallery viewers. With this infuential and innovative installation Gillette
and Schneider were concerned to present an experience that would break the conven-
tional single-screen TV perspective, by providing a complex mix of live images and
multiple viewpoints, in real time.
Michael Shamberg (1945, USA) who met Gillette whilst working on an article
about TV as a Creative Medium and Wipe Cycle for Time Magazine, was also
interested in the potential of video as a journalistic medium and had been inspired
by the writings of McLuhan. In October 1969 Gillette and Shamberg founded the
Raindance Corporation with funds of US$70,000 provided by Louis Jafe, as an
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alternative media think-tank, in an ironic reference to the mainstream organization
the Rand Corporation. Raindance was conceived of by Gillette and its co-founders as
an umbrella organization to promote and disseminate ideas about video as a radical
alternative to centralized television broadcasting through the activities of production,
publication and distribution of alternative video work. Based in a loft at 24 East
22nd Street in New York, Raindance was joined by Phyllis Gershuny and Beryl Korot
(1945, USA) who set to work producing Radical Software, a publication dedicated
to the needs of the alternative video community. Te frst editorial, jointly penned
by Shamberg, Gershuny and Korot outlined a range of counter-cultural ideas about
the control of information and the necessity of liberating the television medium
from the grips of large corporations. Drawing on ideas from Gregory Bateson (1904,
UK 1980, USA) Buckminster Fuller (18951983, USA), and others, the editorial
outlined an ecological approach to an understanding of the power of technology as
a cultural force.
Radical Software continued publishing until 1974, a total of eleven issues with
eventual press runs of upwards of 10,000. During that period the magazine covered
and publicized radical alternative approaches to video and detailed technical infor-
mation championing the use of the video medium for social, political and aesthetic
change. Although Raindance, constituted as a non-proft foundation in 1971, ceased
to publish Radical Software, it also published two important and infuential books.
Guerrilla Television, written by Michael Shamberg, attempted to distil the message
of Radical Software into book form, reaching a wider audience than the periodical
as well as publicizing the activities and philosophy of Raindance and giving them a
more permanent legacy. Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1971, Guerrilla
Television was designed by the Californian video group Ant Farm. Te book was
divided into two sections a manual which contained practical and technical infor-
mation about video and a meta-manual which presented the Raindance philosophy,
distilled from the ideas of Frank Gillette and Paul Ryan drawing on the work of their
mentors McLuhan, Bateson and McCullough.
In 1975, Schneider and Korot edited Video Art: An Anthology, the last of the
Raindance publications, a survey of 73 practicing video artists with contextualizing
essays by Douglas Davis, Frank Gillette, David A Ross, John Hanhardt and others.
Although the Raindance foundation was interested in a wider approach to video
than gallery art, many of the most important individuals at the centre of Raindance,
Gillette, Schneider and Korot among them, were artists committed to the notion that
the new low-gauge medium of video could challenge the status quo of broadcast TV
in the United States, and build the foundation of a new approach to communication
that extended well beyond the art gallery and museum system.
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Frank Gillettes contribution to Video Art: An Anthology, Masque in Real Time
gives an insight into his thinking and ideas at the time about video as a medium and
its relationship to human communication, demonstrating his afnity to the ideas and
writings of Marshall McLuhan in particular:
Te video network, in this sense, is the extension of a neurophysiological
channel, the connection between the world and the visual-perceptual system
terminating in the prefrontal neocortex. Video can thus become a record of the
resonance between that channel eye/ear/prefrontal neocortex and natural
process in time. Te frst criteria for a video aesthetic, then, is the economy
of movement in the use of the camera as a record of mediation between the
eye-body taken as the symbol and substance of the entire viscero-somatic
system in video art, and the processes being recorded. Trough a kinaesthetic
signature which individuates the loop eye-.body, the technology itself, and
the process being recorded the artist transmutes random information into an
aesthetic pattern.
Te later distinction between video artists and video activists was still blurred at this
time, and many artists who began using video were politically and socially motivated
and made what came to be called street tapes direct documentation of ordinary
people going about their day-to-day lives, often edited in camera, using the pause
control of the Portapak. Te artist Les Levine (1935, Ireland), for example made Bum
in 1965, one of the earliest videotapes of this genre, containing a series of interviews
of winos and derelicts on the streets of New York. Frank Gillette made a fve-hour
documentary on the street life of the hippy community in St. Marks Place during the
summer of 1968, whilst experimenting with the portable video he borrowed from
Fordham University.
By the end of the 1960s, the New York video scene had fourished, and numerous
cooperative groups were formed. Te members of Commediation, one of the earliest,
were united in the belief that video could be used as a tool for social and political
change. Individually and collectively, members of Commediation went on to form a
number of other important video groups, including Videofreex, Top Value Television,
the Peoples Video Teater and Global Village (see below). Shamberg, Cort, Gutstadt,
Gioscia and their colleagues realized that video had the potential for a very diferent
mode of communication to that ofered by broadcast television at that time, and these
ideas were subsequently developed by other New York-based video groups. David
Cort, a key member of the Commediation, saw the new lightweight, portable video
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camera could ofer activists the potential for a more direct connection between the
subject and the viewer: Te camera was like a funnel through which you could work.
You could move in, and be intimate and close.
Te Videofreex, founded in 1969 and initially based in New York City with
members including Skip Blumberg, Nancy Cain, David Cort, Davidson Gigliotti,
Chuck Kennedy, Curtis Ratclif, Carol Vontobel, Tunie Wall and Ann Woodward,
eventually relocated as Media Bus to Maple Tree Farm in Lanesville, up-state New
York. It developed a considerable knowledge base in the application and use of
video equipment and techniques and published Te Spaghetti City Video Manual:
A Guide to Use, Repair and Maintenance (1973), which was a comprehensive guide
to the operation, use and maintenance of low-gauge video. Te group operated a
touring media bus programme, visiting communities and institutions throughout
New York State and beyond, making and showing their community-based work, and
establishing links with environmental groups and experts involved with computer
information systems.
Te Peoples Video Teater, founded by Ken Marsh and Elliot Glass, were mainly
involved with community video, working with live and recorded video feedback of
community issues, using techniques developed with low-cost video and Portapacks
in order to present alternative views and attitudes not available via the network
news. Teir techniques, which included recording responses to their tape screenings,
were infuential on other community-based video groups, including the UK-based
Graft-On (see below).
Top Value Television (TVTV) was formed in 1972 by Michael Shamberg with
members of other video groups, including Ant Farm (see below), Videofreex and
Raindance in order to cover political conventions using Portapacks for cable TV. Four
More Years (1972), an hour-long tape documenting the Republican convention of
that year, was produced with a crew of 19, and presented material covering a range of
activities connected with the convention, including rallies, demonstrations and inter-
views. Tis project led to the broadcast of their work on PBS, the American national
public broadcasting network.
According to Davidson Gogliotti, one of the original members of Videofreex, and
Media Bus, the New York State Council for the Arts made an important contribution
to the development of video art in New York. Peter Bradley, director of flm, TV
media and literature at NYSCA during the early 1970s, funded a wide variety of
innovative projects, including media centres, video groups, collectives and individual
artists. It is clear that many of the activities of groups such as Videofreex, TVTV and
Te Peoples Video Teater would not have been possible without the enlightened
attitude of Bradley and his colleagues at NYSCA during this early period.
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Chip Lord and Doug Michels founded Ant Farm, a radical architectural and video
group In San Francisco in 1968. Te group, which at various times included Doug
Hurr, Hudson Marquez, Joe Hall, Andy Shapiro, Kelly Gloger, Curtis Schreier and
Michael Wright, began exploring the potential of video as an element of their instal-
lation and performance work, making use of the Portapack as an improvisational and
communication tool and as a method for archiving their projects and live events.
In 1971, Ant Farm designed a studio and video screening room for San Francisco
art collector Jim Newman, an early example of telematics a fusion of media
technology and architecture. Te group produced a number of signifcant videotapes
from documentation of their performance work, including Te Eternal Frame (1975),
with TR Uthco (Doug Hall, Diane Hall, and Jody Procter), Cadillac Ranch (1974)
and Media Burn (1975).
In England, photographer, journalist and political activist John Hoppy Hopkins
(1937, UK) was part of a radical counter-cultural group calling themselves the
Institute for Research in Art & Technology (IRAT) established during 196970
and operating out of a disused factory in Camden, North London. Tey considered
themselves to be artists and media activists with activities and interests spanning a
wide range of disciplines which included cinema, electronics, cybernetics, exhibitions,
music, photography, printing, music, theatre, video, words and semiotics.
We were all doing stuf and took the wider view of what an artist is and in
some ways pushing at the envelope in some direction whether the aesthetic
or technical or semantic living on the edge in some way. So, if you think of
yourself as an artist in that sense, the activity that you do is art, so if youre doing
recording which turns out later to fall into the category of documentary, in my
view that would still qualify as art.
Te video group TVX was a sub-set of IRAT, an umbrella organization with charity
status. Tere were six original members of TVX including Hopkins, Jo Bear Webb,
Clif Evans, Steve Herman, John Kirk and a whole lot of other people who plugged
in from time to time, contributing ideas, energy and money.
Te other face of IRAT was Te Centre for Advanced TV Studies the more
formal part of the operation, which attempted to make an interface with mainstream
organizations such as the International Association for Mass Communications
Research, as well as with academic institutions and was involved with the importing
and selling of video and communication publications. Hopkins and his group also
conducted research on the potential of non-broadcast video as a communication tool
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and were commissioned by the British Home Ofce to write a report about the use
of video in community development, which was to become a standard work.
Hopkins met Sue Hall in the early 1970s when IRAT was re-housed by Camden
Council after their frst premises were demolished. Hall and Hopkins formed a
partnership called Graft-on and began to use video in support of a campaign to stop
the demolition of the rows of Victorian terraced housing by the local council as part
of a plan to rebuild a large section of north London with tower blocks.
Hopkins and Hall worked systematically and methodically, using video techniques
and practices that had been developed by George Stoney (1916, USA) who had
worked with the Challenge for Change video project at the National Film Board of
Canada and on similar projects at New York University. Stoneys methods used video
to engage people in issues that concerned them but which they had not been able to
articulate or vocalize. Sue Hall described the basic procedure they adopted:
Basically you go and shoot video in a community where they would raise issues
and concerns fairly randomly. Ten youd play bits of it back to them because
there was no way to edit the tape, and then you asked people questions about
those bits, and from that usually you would fnd people who would focus: what
we want to do is this, or what we want to do about that. You would then video
them saying that and then you would try to get them to outline how it was going
to work, so for example they might say wed like to paint all the houses, so theyd
look nice, wed like to clean up the streets.
As video activists, Hall and Hopkins explored the use of video as a catalyst for social
action, exploiting the instantaneous playback and combined sound and picture,
recording sessions and playing them back selectively, maximizing the fexibility of the
Portapak as well as making a virtue of the relatively low running costs of the medium
and the re-usability of the tape. Te concepts derived from their study of communi-
cation theory were fundamental to their approach with video. Hopkins outlined the
distinctions between the three levels of meaning as described by Shannon and Weaver
(see Chapter 6) in communication systems, and how they were applied to the video
work that Hall and Hopkins made during the early 1970s:
Level A is the technical level. In answer to the question: How well are the
symbols of transmission being communicated and received? (Which we were
concerned with quite a lot.) So, doing a technical fx to improve the inadequacies
in order to achieve better communication.
Level B is semantic, which is characterized by the question: How well is the
message getting across? Tis is the content level and includes aesthetic considerations.
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Level C is where it joins up with the social aspects. To answer the question:
How well are the objectives being achieved in the external world? Or, if you
like, in terms of social change: What is the efectiveness of the product (or the
activity) weve made in achieving the external objectives?
Te process of making these tapes was the crucial activity and this process included
the entire cycle of engaging with the subject, recording the material and selectively
playing it back to the intended audience. Te most common screening situation
for Hopkins and Hall was to present their resultant video work back to the people
directly involved with the activities and events they had documented, or to groups
associated with the particular cause or issue they were engaged with. Tis feedback
loop was a fundamental part of their working process, as described above by Sue Hall,
a concept clearly drawn from their interest in applying ideas drawn from cybernetics.
Often for Hall and Hopkins the process of feedback was the most rewarding part of
the activity playing back the tapes to audiences outside those for whom the tape was
originally intended provided them with the greatest learning experiences.
In the early days of video the technology was very unreliable, and diferent machines
and models were incompatible tapes recorded on a machine manufactured by
one company were unlikely to play back using machines made by another. Te frst
Portapak available in the UK in 1969 was the Sony CV2000, which had a resolution
of 405 lines. In 1970 Sony introduced the CV2100, which although it had 625 lines,
had no capstan servo, which meant that a tape made on one had to be re-engineered
in order to get it to play back on another. Te Sony Rover, introduced in 1973,
fnally provided a machine that recorded tapes to a standard format. However the
Portapak, manufactured for the North American and Japanese markets (see Glossary:
videotape formats) was made to conform to the US 525 line standard, which was
incompatible with the UK and European versions, producing further complications
and hampering the transatlantic exchange of tapes. As the recorders became stand-
ardized and increasingly reliable, video editing became feasible, although initially
this was quite a hit and miss operation either you tried to edit in camera, which
basically meant pausing the tape between shots, and if you were recording a live event,
trying to guess when to start and stop the tape.
By 1974 Hall and Hopkins had set up an open-access video facility consisting of a
-inch mains operated video recorder (a Sony AV 3670) and a sound mixer. Visitors
to the facility had to supply their own Portapak, and using a time-consuming and
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rather inaccurate method, it was possible to reorganize the sequences of the original
video recording, shorten scenes and eliminate unwanted sections of picture and/or
sound, as well as add additional sound sources and music. Te technique required a
user to roll back both the source tape (the original material) and the master tape (the
tape onto which the new recording was to be made) for at least ten seconds (called
the pre-roll). Ten, using a stopwatch and the mechanical tape counter on the video
recorder, punch or hit the record button at the precise moment at which the new
recording was intended to begin a haphazard and tedious process which often
yielded disappointing or indiferent results.
By the following year, after research into the operation and availability of various
video editing systems, Hall and Hopkins secured grant funding from the Greater
London Arts Association (GLAA) to set up an open-access automatic video editing
facility, which they called the Fantasy Factory. Sony had recently introduced the
U-matic format a more robust -inch colour video cassette system for the
3.1: Sony CV2600. Courtesy of Richard Diehl, http://www.labguysworld.com
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industrial (non-broadcast) market, and Hall and Hopkins, working with video artist
and electronics engineer Richard Monkhouse (see Chapter 7) designed an interface
which enabled accurate editing directly from a -inch source machine.
Te U-matic
system soon became the standard preferred format of non-broadcast and independent
users and remained so well into the 1980s (see Glossary: videotape formats, for
further details). Te Fantasy Factory continued to be one of the few open-access video
post-production facilities in London, but with the advent of computer-based video
editing in the 1990s, their client base has gradually eroded, and they have recently
ceased operation. Hall and Hopkins have continued to work with video, still working
together closely and engaged in various freelance projects and productions.
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As was seen in the frst chapter, video art had its beginnings in the late 1950s and
early 1960s. However, artists have been experimenting with moving images using flm
since the beginning of the twentieth century, and this creative output has been very
infuential on the development of video art in a number of signifcant ways. Artists
who began to use video in the early days had often themselves also experimented
with and/or worked in flm. Video pioneers such as the Vasulkas, David Hall, Robert
Cahen, Richard Serra, Vito Acconci, Wojciech Bruszewski and many others, often
explored and contrasted these two moving image media.
Te infuence of experimental flm on video art is a complex and varied topic,
and to treat it properly would require a book of its own. In this chapter I have
restricted my discussion to some broad examples of the direct infuence of avant-
garde/experimental flmmaking on the development of video art (i.e. work by
flmmakers who worked within a fne art context, or artists who drew on or
reacted against experimental flmmaking traditions). In recent years (since the late
1980s) computer technology has facilitated a convergence between the previously
very distinctly separate moving image technologies of flm and video in a number
of important and signifcant ways. Increasingly the distinctions between the two
media, so crucial in the early days of video, are no longer important or relevant to
the experience of viewing and engaging with work by video artists, and for many
practitioners the distinctions between the two media have little or no aesthetic or
cultural signifcance.
An important formal structuring device commonly used by experimental flmmakers
is the loop a strip of flm joined from beginning to end and used as the basis of a
repeating image sequence. One of the earliest known repeated loop sequences occurs
in Fernand Legers (18811955, France) Ballet Mcanique (1924), an experimental
flm which includes a multiple repeat action of a single flm sequence of a woman
climbing a series of steps. Ballet Mcanique is Legers only flm, and he was interested
in extending ideas developed from his paintings by imposing a machine action to
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human movement. He was also interested in producing a flm based on what he called
a new realism which drew on Futurist principles. In 1926 Leger wrote:
To get the right plastic efect, the usual cinematic methods must be entirely
forgotten . Te diferent degrees of mobility must be regulated by the rhythms
controlling the diferent speeds of projection . I have purposedly [sic] included
parts of the human body in order to emphasize the fact that in the new realism
the human being, the personality, is very interesting only in these fragments and
that these fragments should not be considered of any more importance than any
of the objects listed.
Repeating loop structures were adopted as a formal strategy by a number of American
experimental flmmakers who began working in the early- to mid-1960s. Filmmakers
including Michael Snow (1929, Canada), Hollis Frampton (193684, USA), Ken
Jacobs (1933, USA), Paul Sharits (194393), Tony Conrad (1940, USA) and Ernie
Gehr (1943, USA) produced a number of flms which were grouped together by flm
critic P. Adams Sitney in Visionary Film, his classic study of American avant-garde
flm, under the heading of the Structural Film. According to Sitneys defnition, the
structural flm is cinema in which the shape of the whole flm is predetermined
and simplifed. Within the flms made by this group of artists, Sitney identifed an
awareness and foregrounding of flmmakings technical processes as crucial:
the formal flm is a tight nexus of content, the shape designed to explore
the facets of the material . Te structural flm insists on its shape, and what
content it has is minimal and subsidiary to the outline.
Sitney identifed four main formal techniques that characterized the structural flm:
1 Te fxed-camera position
2 Flicker efect
3 Re-photography of the screen
4 Loop printing.
According to Sitney three of these four defning characteristics of the Structural Film
were derived from the work of Andy Warhol (19281987, USA), who in a rejection
of Abstract Expressionism, produced anti-romantic cinema, an attitude that was
also in direct contrast to the lyrical and poetic flm work of Stan Brakhage (1933,
USA2003, Canada) who passionately believed that every frame was crucial. In
contrast, according to Sitney, Warhol simply turned the camera on and walked away.
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In Warhols Sleep (1963) for example, a flm which has a duration of over six hours,
long sequences of flm were produced by loop printing entire 100-ft fxed-camera
takes, and freeze-printing a static close-up image of the sleeper.
For Sitney, the fundamental challenge of Warhols flms for the structuralist
flmmakers was in the orchestration of duration: How to permit the wandering
attention that triggered ontological awareness and at the same time, guide that
awareness to a goal. Tese new Structural flms evoked meditational states through
the mediation of the camera.
According to Sitneys formulation, the Structural Film also grew out of (through
an opposition to) the lyrical flmmaking practice of Stan Brakhage, where the
cinematic metaphor was tied into eyesight and body movement, and was extended
to embrace consciousness. In the works of Brakhage, perception was presented
as a condition of vision, almost an imposition of the eye, most clearly stated in
Metaphors on Vision, a collection of writings about his flm work and theories.
Brakhages vision is complex. Poetic and heroic, it celebrates the potential of the
camera to break from the confnes of realism. In a key section of his book,
Brakhage catalogues and identifes the cameras multiplicity of viewpoints in a
celebration of its technical prowess:
Consider this prodigy for its virtually untapped talents, viewpoints it possesses
more readily recognizable as visually non-human yet within the realm of the
humanly imaginable. I am speaking of its speed for receptivity which can
slow the fastest motion for detailed study, or its ability to create a continuity
for time compression, increasing the slowest motion to a comprehensibility. I
am praising its cyclopaedian penetration of haze, its infra-red visual ability in
darkness, its just developed 360 degree view, its prismatic revelation of rainbows,
its zooming potential for exploding space and its telephotic compression of same
to fatten perspective, its micro and macro-scopic revelations. I am marvelling
at its Schlaeran self capable of representing heat waves and the most invisible air
pressures, and appraising its other still camera developments which may grow
into motion, its rendering visible the illumination of bodily heat, its transfor-
mation of ultra-violets to human cognizance, its penetrating x-ray.
In Brakhages flm work the camera and its associated technologies take on a poetic
and metaphoric signifcance in relation to vision and an experience of the world
through the eye. In Sitneys interpretation, Structural flm is a cinema of the mind
rather than the eye.
For many, this distinction is rather academic, as it is clear
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from Brakhages writing that his discussion of the eye as the organ of sight is itself
metaphoric. For example, in a section subtitled My Eye Brakhage begins:
My eye, tuning toward the imaginary, will go to any wavelengths for its sights.
Im writing of cognizance, minds eye awareness of all addressing vibrations.
What rays still pass thorough this retina still unrestrained by mind?
For Brakhage, the mechanism of the eye is in some signifcant way constrained by
the thinking mind. By extension, conventional (dominant Hollywood narrative)
cinema is constrained by conditioning and linguistic models of rational thought. His
notion of the human eye as capable of recovering a wider and more profound vision
was infuenced by his cinematic experiments. Tis approach to subjective camera
techniques can be seen for example, in Anticipation of the Night (1958), a flm that
presents the viewer with a frst-person and highly subjective narrative, the represen-
tation of a conscious experience.
Sitneys identifcation of the structural flms meditational qualities is illustrated with a
discussion of Wavelength (1967) an infuential flm by Canadian artist Michael Snow
(1929, Canada).
In her essay Towards Snow, Annette Michelson argues that Wavelength is a
metaphor for consciousness, drawing on ideas from phenomenology in support of her
thesis. Michelson discusses Wavelength as the flm which reintroduced expectation as
the core of flm form after Brakhage and Warhol, redefning space as an essentially
a temporal notion.
For Michelson, Wavelength transcends distinctions between the
two polarities of experimental flm form the realist (prose) of Warhol on the one
hand, and the poetic (montage) of Brakhage on the other, through an investigation
into the flmic modes of presentation.
Snow himself outlined his original intentions for the flm in a statement written to
accompany the flm on its release:
I wanted to make a summation of my nervous system, religious inklings, and
aesthetic ideas. I was thinking of planning for a time-monument in which
the beauty and sadness of equivalence would be celebrated, thinking of trying
to make a defnitive statement of pure flm space and time, a balancing of
illusionand fact, all about seeing. Te space starts at the cameras (spectators)
eye, is in the air, then is on the screen, then is within the screen (the mind).
Wavelength is constructed from images that present a 45-minute zoom that narrows
gradually across the space of a New York loft. Troughout the duration of the zoom,
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which is punctuated by four human events including a death,
the flm is constructed
from sequences exposed on various flm stocks black-and-white and colour, positive
and negative and shot through various coloured flters. Light changes from daylight
to night, and from over to underexposure. Te zoom is gradual but not steady, often
with brief superimpositions, which give the flm the appearance of jumping forward,
and then catching itself up anticipating the point it is inexorably moving towards.
Te flm thus presents and foregrounds many aspects of technical image manipu-
lation, but, as Michelson argues, uses them to produce a work in which the overall
impact is metaphoric: a grand metaphor for narrative form.
Michelsons analysis supports Sitneys, distinguishing Wavelength from the work
of Brakhage as centred on a personal vision an inner vision projected through the
eye. Brakhages insistence on the signifcance of a hypnogogic vision situated in the
eye, which aspires to present itself perceptually, all at once, to resist observation and
If Wavelength and other later flms by Snow, such as Back & Forth (19689), One
Second in Montreal (1969) and La Rgion Centrale (19701), were infuential on
experimental/avant-garde flms that followed it, they were also seen as problematic
especially in England.
For the English avant-garde flmmaker and theorist Malcolm Le Grice (1940,
UK), Wavelength was in some ways a retrograde step in cinematic form. Le
Grices objections to Wavelength were related to the issue of duration as a concrete
dimension. His concerns centred on his requirement for an exact correlation
between shooting duration and projection time. On viewing, Wavelength implies
some kind of one-to-one equivalence between the pro-flmic and the projection
event, which Le Grice identifes as a contrived continuity which therefore places the
flms context squarely within that of the narrative (and therefore for Le Grice, less
radical) tradition.
By the mid-1970s Le Grice and Peter Gidal (1946, USA), the two main theorist/
flm practitioners working in Britain, had developed a rigorous theoretical position,
which came to be known as Structural/Materialist flm. Both artists, through the
related activities of flmmaking, writing, and teaching exerted a powerful infuence
on the direction of experimental flmmaking (and consequently, on the development
of experimental video) in this period. In a catalogue published to coincide with the
Structural Film Retrospective at the National Film Teatre, London in May 1976,
Peter Gidal set out his Teory and Defnition of Structural/Materialist Film. In the
introduction Gidal clearly sets out the central tenets of his position:
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Structural/Materialist flm attempts to be non-illusionist. Te process of the
flms making deals with devices that result in demystifcation or attempted
demystifcation of the flm process . An avant-garde flm defned by its
development towards increased materialism and materialist function does not
represent or document anything. Te flm produces certain relations between
segments, between what the camera is aimed at and the way the image is
presented. Te dialectic of the flm is established in that space of tension
between materialist fatness, grain, light, movement, and the supposed reality
that is represented. Consequently a continual attempt to destroy the illusion
is necessary. In Structural/Materialist flm, the in/flm (not in/frame) and flm/
viewer relations, and the relations of the flms structure, are primary to any
representational content. Te structuring aspects and the attempt to decipher
the structure and anticipate/recorrect it, to clarify and analyze the production
process of the specifc image at any specifc moment, are the root concern of
Structural/Materialist flm.
In addition to Gidals Teory and Defnition, Te Structural Film Anthology
contained a collection of essays on the seminal flms of the movement made by artists
working in the UK, Europe and the United States, including writings on the work of
Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, Ken Jacobs and Paul Sharits in the United States,
Malcolm Le Grice, Peter Gidal, and William Raban (1948, UK) in England, as well as
European artists Peter Kubelka (1934, Austria) and Wilhelm and Brigit Hein (1940
and 1942, Germany). Te catalogue and screenings at the National Film Teatre were
a clear attempt to address the issue of the predominance of the American flm work,
and to extend and refne P. Adams Sitneys early defnition.
For Gidal, the so-called Structural Film as outlined by Sitney in Visionary Film
was simply another formalism. In appropriating Sitneys term Gidal was aware of
the dangers, stressing that in his formulation emphasis was to be placed on the idea
of dialectic, rather than a mechanistic materialism. Gidal felt that Sitneys approach
resulted in a fetishization of shape (i.e. a tendency to make visible the organizing
principles or system) and therefore to become a quasi-narrative. (Merely substituting
one hierarchy for another) Gidal posited that the use of specifc formal devices,
such as repetition within duration, facilitated a deciphering of the transforma-
tions produced by the relationships between the flm and the cinematic techniques
Malcolm Le Grices theoretical stance was more aligned to the position of the
spectator and to issues related to duration. According to Mike OPray, Le Grice was
sceptical of flm debates of the 1970s, and his theoretical position was tempered by
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the range of interests and formal developments in his own work throughout the
Le Grices work has included multiple projector Expanded Cinema (see
below), graphic experiments and experimental narratives, and most recently, video
and computer-generated imagery (see Chapter 15).
In an essay published in 1976, writer and critic Deke Dusinberre identifed three
distinct tendencies in English experimental flm practice which, although drawing on
the American model, were clearly and signifcantly divergent. He viewed the English
project as one which sought a purifcation of cinematic signifcation and was critical
of the theoretical contributions of both Gidal and Le Grice to this debate, claiming
their contributions tended to obfuscate the immediate issues, which were, according
to Dusinberre, on a fne line between a didactic literalness and an empty tautology.
Dusinberres essay is useful in relation to a discussion of the moving image context
which was infuential on video art practice in the UK. English experimental flm
culture of the 1970s was very infuential on the art school debate, and the flms
discussed here were widely seen, with a retrospective at the National Film Teatre
in 1977, and two major exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery: Perspectives on
British Avant-Garde Film in 1977, and Film-as-Film: Formal Experiment in Film:
19101975 in 1979.
As with the video art scene in this period, the art school was also the base of
much English experimental flmmaking. Te infuence of the art school with its
emphasis on co-operative flm production, the use of shared facilities and pooled
resources and expertise was echoed in the culture of the London Filmmakers
Co-op. Te art school experience of these flmmakers was framed within a
refexive modernist and conceptual approach that emphasized the signifcance of
the materials and techniques used in the making of the work, and their infuence
on meaning.
Of the three categories of flm identifed in Dusinberres discussion of the English
tendency, the approach referred to as structural asceticism was closest to the
American model, but also owed something to flms identifed with Fluxus. According
to Dusinberre these flms rejected any notion of a goal or transcendence, but whilst
avoiding total abstraction, sought to eface the very cinematic image. Films identifed
with this approach include a number of works by Peter Gidal; Room Film 1973
(1973), C/O/N/S/T/R/U/C/T (1974), Condition of Illusion (1975) and some earlier
flms by Malcolm Le Grice; Yes No Maybe Maybe Not (1967), Talla (1967) and Blind
White Duration (1967); as well as flms by others including John Du Canes Cross
(1975), and Tony Sindens Reversal Rotation (1975).
According to Dusinberre, the ascetic structural flm systematically rejected
cinematic illusionism, in contrast to the US approach that favoured the establishment
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of an equilibrium between illusionism (representation) and the material aspect
(reality). Te ascetic structural flm presented cinema as light on a screen which
evokes texture, depth, image, potential illusion.
Tese flms also employed a
Warholian strategy of duration and repetition to deliberately evoke tedium in order
to force the spectator into a confrontation with the cinematic image.
Dusinberres second category is particularly signifcant in relation to video instal-
lation practice. Expanded Cinema sought to emphasize the nature of cinema by
foregrounding the projection event, encouraging the role of the audience in the
semiotic process. Tis approach, with roots in both performance art and sculpture,
emphasized the nature of the projection: the light beam, the surface of the screen, and
the physical and perceptual space between. Examples of Expanded Cinema in the UK
include Le Grices Horror Film 1 (1971) Tony Hills Point Source (1974) and Annabel
Nicolsons Reel Time (1973).
Tese works all involved a direct performance aspect, the flmmaker performing a
specifc action in relation to the flm material. Events had a specifc duration tied into
the length of the flm material and the flmmaker/performers action.
Dusinberre identifes a further signifcant development which is both an important
precursor and a formative infuence on the development of video installation:
when the role of the artist as performer is abandoned to the projector and
beam and screen as the performers of the piece, a concomitant shift in the role
of audience takes place, a shift which transforms the earlier work into the specifc
projection cinema I am stressing here.
Tis projection cinema incorporates the entire cinematic apparatus into the work
projector, light beam, screen and demands an audience perspective requiring a spatial
involvement which has more in common with sculpture than with cinema. Tere is
a corresponding tendency towards image repetition; projection time becomes tauto-
logical that is the only time presented. In this context the work of Anthony McCall
(1946, UK); Line Describing a Cone (1973) and Four Projected Movements (1975) are
mentioned, and to this I would add work by David Dye (1945, UK), for example
Unsigning for 8 Projectors (1972).
Te last of Dusinberres categories the landscape flm is also signifcant in terms
of video art practice. For Dusinberre:
Te signifcance of the landscape flms arises from the fact that they assert
the illusionism of cinema through the sensuality of landscape imagery, and
simultaneously assert the material nature of the representational process
which sustains the illusionism. It is the interdependence of those assertions
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that makes the flms remarkable the shape and the content interact as a
systematic whole.
Te landscape flms of Chris Welsby (1948, UK) (Park Film and Windmill II, both
1973, and Seven Days, 1974) and William Raban (1948, UK) (Angles of Incidence,
1973) are seen as difering from both the ascetic and projection flms because they
are not interested in deconstructing the illusionist nature of cinema, and signifcantly,
especially in their use of time-lapse techniques, they do not present a one-to-one
correspondence between the pro-flmic and projection events. Dusinberre also points
out that these landscape flms tend toward the poly sensory experience via its highly
condensed image making and occasional multi-screen format.
Te essay summarizes the similarities between the three categories, pointing out
that all three foreground image production over image content, placing an emphasis
on the imaging technology and the issues related to perceptions which follow on
from this:
Tis places the spectator in a continual moment of refection, demanding an
awareness of the act of apprehension tantamount to constant refexiveness. Tis
constant refexiveness is indicative of a profound shift demanded by modern art
which relocates the primary responsibility for meaning-making from the artist
to the perceiver.
In 1977 Chris Welsby selected a programme of landscape flms, including a number
of his own, as part of Perspectives on British Avant-Garde Film at the Hayward
Gallery in London. In his programme notes Welsby identifed some of the themes
which were important to an understanding of his flms:
In art the history of formalism has grown up in parallel with the history of
technology. Te medium of landscape flm brings to organic life the language of
formalism in flm; particularly the independent work done in this country,
it manifests itself by emphasizing the flmic process as the subject of the work.
Te synthesis between these formalistic concerns of independent flm and the
organic quality of landscape imagery is inevitably the central issue of contem-
porary landscape art. It is this attempt to integrate the forms of technology with
the forms to be found in nature which gives the art of landscape its relevance in
the 20th century.
In early flms Welsby made use of time-lapse and other mechanical control devices
to structure his flmic records of landscape environments. For example in Windmill
II (1971) the speed of the camera motor is related to the speed of a windmill device,
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so that wind-related elements in the flm frame remain constant (e.g. the wind in the
trees) whilst other movements within the fame, including the exposure, are afected
by the changes. In later works such as Seven Days (1974) Welsby modifed this
procedural practice to one in which his intervening presence in the predetermined
relationship between the cinematic apparatus and the landscape was made explicit.
His intention was to provide a kind of human interface of mediation between the
camera device and the natural world.
My aim is to mediate between the predictable and unpredictable elements of the
situation. My intention is to make flms which are not about, but a part of this
situation in its entirety.
Most signifcantly it was Welsbys understanding of the flmmaker as the interface
between the organic subject matter of the landscape and the cinematic mechanism to
create a work that becomes an expression of this relationship.
In Abstract Film and Beyond Malcolm Le Grice argued that flms exploring notions
of time and temporality could be understood as abstract even though they used the
camera (or perhaps more accurately, the lens) to produce the imagery. Discussing
Man Rays Retour a la Raison (1923) Le Grice identifes three signifcant ways in
which the flm uses photographically derived imagery to produce a specifcally
cinematic abstraction.
1 A separation of the visual aspects of an object from their normal visual context.
Te use of extreme close-ups and/or strong lighting, rapid motion of objects,
unusual camera angles or framing which renders the object ambiguous.
2 Te montage of image sequences based on their kinetic or visual similarities.
3 Te direct exposure of objects onto flm stock (i.e. using the photogram
technique), which ignores flm frame divisions, thus drawing attention to the
photochemical and material nature of flm.
Le Grice had made explicit a fundamental relationship between the works of
flmmakers that had hitherto seemed to be poles apart. Te notion that images
produced using a camera pointed at the real world could be considered abstract
was liberating. It made a clear link between the musical and fuid experience of the
so-called absolute animation flms of the Whitney Brothers, Richter and Fischinger,
the hand-drawn flms of Len Lye and Norman Mclaren, the lyrical flm essays of
Stan Brakhage and the conceptual structuralism of Michael Snow and Chris Welsby.
Video art can be seen to be part of a tradition that could embrace all of these works,
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furthermore the work of video artists such as David Hall and Peter Donebauer are
not as irreconcilable as they might at frst seem.
Le Grices flms were also an important infuence on video art in the UK and
elsewhere. In the context of repeating loop structures and in its use of twin-screen
projection, Berlin Horse (1971) was particularly signifcant. Te original sequence
which forms the core of the flm was shot on 8 mm flm and re-flmed through
a series of coloured flters using a range of diferent flm stocks: black-and-white,
negative and reversal. Te resulting flm is a fuid weaving of forward and reverse
motion producing a uniquely pure cinematic experience. Although at the time Le
Grice had stated he was uncertain about what it implies and also about its decorative
Berlin Horse, made at the beginning of the 1970s, is a confrmation of
the value and signifcance of the exploration of the artifcial boundaries between
abstraction and representation in time-based art.
In the early days of video, many artists experimented with both mediums, often
exploring the similarities and diferences. Some shot on flm and transferred the
results to video, some worked with video and transferred to flm. Filming or recording
images of the TV screen was also a common strategy.
By the mid-1970s however, video art had begun to forge a distinctive practice,
establishing the foundations of its own history. Artists chose to work with video for
a variety of reasons, many of which distinguished it from flm. As we have seen in
previous chapters, emerging video art practice ranged from political activists (such as
Guerilla TV and Te Raindance Corporation in the USA, and TVX in the UK), to
performance-based artists (such as William Wegman, Vito Acconci and Joan Jonas in
the USA, and Gilbert & George, Kevin Atherton and Rose Garrard in the UK), to
conceptual artists (such as David Hall, Tamara Krikorian and David Critchley), and
abstract imaging experimenters (such as Peter Donebauer and Richard Monkhouse in
the UK, Stephen Beck and the Vasulkas in the USA). Feminist artists such as Martha
Rosler and Tina Keene also embraced video with enthusiasm, attracted by its lack of
historical precedence and its political and aesthetic potential. Many of these artists
made a transition from flm to video, bringing skills and sensibilities drawn from their
experience of working with flm.
Daniel Reeves (1948, USA) took up video after initially working with flm (see
Chapter 10). After studying flmmaking at a Vietnam veterans re-habilitation
programme, Reeves found work in the educational TV department at Cornel
University. He describes the discovery of his afnity with video, and its suitability for
the kind of work that he wanted to produce, whilst engaged on a flm project:
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I became really enamored and encouraged by the feeling the video camera
could be as direct a tool (within certain restrictions) as a pen, or a brush or
a carving tool . Discovering that I could now go out with the camera, and
although it was still a relatively clumsy 3/4 inch U-matic deck. But clumsy or
not, it went on a back-pack, and with the camera you could just capture things
right there, and look at them right there if you chose to .
Pioneering US-based video artists Steina and Woody Vasulka took up video in the
late 1960s (see Chapters 7 and 10). Steina was a classically trained violinist and
Woody studied flm at the Academy in Prague. Arriving in the USA in 1965, Woody
began working as a flm editor in New York, but felt constrained by the traditions of
both narrative and avant-garde flm and was attracted by the freedom he perceived
that video ofered: I was not very successful in making flms I had nothing to say
with flm. Tis new medium was open and available and just let you work without
a subject.
As previously described, British video artist David Hall trained as a sculptor,
documenting his work using photography and flm before abandoning both mediums
to work exclusively with video.
Hall made his 7 TV Pieces on 16 mm flm for STV in 1971, thus ironically the
earliest British video art was actually shot on flm:
I thought that on the whole art had very little social signifcance and was really
kept in its sort of annex. It was just for the initiated. I wanted to try and push
outside of that, and it seemed to me that using flmi.e. like cinema, and using
video, like television, or better still on television, seemed to me to be a much
more appropriate place to be as an artist
I was doing a bit of flm and it occurred to me that TV would really be the
ultimate place because everybody had a TV, and thats what they were keen to
look at they werent keen to go to a gallery. Some people went to galleries, but
everybody looked at television, and this was signifcant.
Once frame-accurate video editing became accessible in the early 1980s, the
looping of image sequences and/or repeat editing techniques were quickly adopted
by video artists. By the mid-1980s this approach had become synonymous with
scratch: fast repeat-action editing, often satirizing broadcast TV and with an
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overtly political content. Dara Birnbaums Technology/Transformation: Wonder
Woman (1978) is an early precursor (see Chapter 8), but there were a number of
precedents in the canon of experimental flm. Charles Ridleys satirical wartime
flm Te Panzer Ballet (1940) slyly edited goose-stepping Nazi troops to the tune
of the Lambeth Walk,
and Bruce Conners newsreel collage flms such as A Movie
(1958) and Report (19637) were signifcant early infuences, as was Peter Kubelkas
Unsere Afrikareise (1966).
Scratch video work was also characterized by its use of image processing. But
the percussive montage of re-appropriated high-contrast colourized images is by no
means exclusive to Scratch Video (see Chapter 9). Te early work of Len Lye (1901,
New Zealand 1980, USA) for the GPO flm unit, for example, Rainbow Dance
(1936) and Trade Tattoo (1937) or Rhythm (1957), his ill-fated broadcast TV advert
for the Chrysler Corporation, have a similar look and energy.
Lye pioneered and developed the technique of drawing directly onto flm, a
resourceful solution to the funding problem that dogged him throughout his
flmmaking career. Tis method of flmmaking has become a genre of its own, and
many experimental flmmakers have explored and extended its potential. Although
there is no direct video equivalent, video artists who developed and built their own
video tools to generate and manipulate the video signal ofer an interesting parallel.
(Some of the work of these artists is discussed in Chapter 7).
Any discussion about the relationship between experimental flm and video art must
include a reference to their diferences. As has been demonstrated, video has its own
distinct and unique properties that set it apart from flm, and many artists have
sought to explore these. In taking a decision to work with video, Woody Vasulka
claimed video negates flm:
Te idea that you can take a picture and put it through a wire and send it to
another place you can broadcast from one place to another this idea of an
ultimate transcendence magic a signal that is organized to contain an image.
it was clear to me that there was a utopian notion to this, it was a radical
system and so there was no question of deciding that this was it.
For the Vasulkas there was a crucial distinction between video and flm in the
relationship of the picture signal to the sound. Steina:
It was the signal, and the signal was unifed. Te audio could be video and
the video could be audio. Te signal could be somewhere outside and then
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interpreted as an audio stream or a video stream. It was very consuming for us,
and we have stuck to it.
I remember that Jonas Mekas didnt like video very much, and he said: why
dont those video makers just make silent video? We all started with silent flms.
Tis was the biggest misunderstanding of the medium Ive ever seen. Video
always came with an audio track, and you had to explicitly ignore it not to
have it.
Feminist video artist and writer Catherine Elwes (1952, France) identifed some
of her reasons for taking up video as opposed to flm in the late 1970s, citing the
infuences of both Structural/Materialist flm and Laura Mulveys classic 1973 paper
Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.
I think initially it was an impatience with painting . I needed a more direct
and immediate way of communicating the stories that were in my head and that
I was trying to get out . For me the diference between flm and video was like
the diference between painting and drawing.
What put me of about flm, principally, was the fact that I couldnt see it . I
also didnt like the waiting. Video was a bit like having a pencil with a rubber.
I could put something down, and if I didnt like it I could just rub it out. To me
it was much closer to drawing and thats why I felt an afnity with it.
Bill Violas (1951, USA) use of the video camera seems to be almost anti-cinematic.
He often uses the camera as if it were a kind of visual microphone. Viola has a
particular notion of acoustic space and understands sound as both an object and
a physical force. Tis concept provides a model for installations and tapes that are
designed to engage the viewer both physically and emotionally. As a result, he speaks
of scenes before his camera as felds rather than points of view. Tus Violas concern
to link physical and material existence to abstract, inner phenomena has evolved out
of recognition of the unique properties of sound.
Violas use of low-light cameras, developed for surveillance purposes in Te Passing
(1991) for example, provides a visual experience that sharply contrasts with the
cinematic. Violas murky low-resolution monochrome sequences of nocturnal desert
landscapes and domestic interiors are further subjectivized by the employment of
ultra-close microphone techniques. But this subjective use of the camera/sound
environment draws directly on the early work of the flmmaker Stan Brakhage in
which the gaze of the camera is tied in to body movement, subjective vision and
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human consciousness. Compare the sequence of Brakhage trudging up the hill in Dog
Star Man/Te Art of Vision (19615), with Violas shadow fgure stumbling down the
hill in Te Passing.
It is also interesting to compare Brakhage in his essay Te Camera Eye, from
Metaphors on Vision written in 1963, with Viola, quoted in an interview made 30
years later.
Brakhage: Te absolute realism of the motion picture image is a contemporary
mechanical myth. Consider this prodigy for its virtually untapped talents,
viewpoints it possesses more readily recognizable as visually non-human yet
within the realm of the humanly imaginable. I am speaking of its speed of recep-
tivity which can slow the fastest motion for detailed study, or its ability to create
continuity for time compression, increasing the slowest motion to compre-
hensibility . I am dreaming of the mystery camera capable of graphically
representing the form of an object after its been removed from the photographic
scene. Te absolute realism of the motion picture is unrealized, and therefore
potential magic.
Viola: For me, one of the most momentous events of the last 150 years is the
animation of the image, the advent of moving images. Tis introduction of time
into visual art could prove to be as important as Brunelleschis pronouncement
of perspective and demonstration of three-dimensional pictorial space. Pictures
now have a 4th dimensional form. Images have now been given life. Tey have
behavior. Tey have an existence in step with the time of our own thoughts and
imaginings. Tey are born, they grow, they change and die. One of the charac-
teristics of living things is that they can be many selves, multiple identities
made up of many moments, contradictory, and all capable of constant trans-
formation, instantaneously in the present as well as retrospectively in the future.
Tis is for me the most exciting thing about working as an artist at this time
in history. It is also the biggest responsibility. It has taught me that the real
raw material is not the camera and monitor, but time and experience itself,
and that the real place the work exists is not on the screen or within the walls
of the room, but in the mind and heart of the person who has seen it. Tis is
where all images live.
Te boundaries and distinctions between artists video and experimental flm are
fast dissolving, if not as some would argue, now completely irrelevant. Te reasons
for this are not merely technological, but also social, economic, and aesthetic. It is
certainly true however that the development of high-resolution digital projection,
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non-linear editing, and image-processing computer software have accelerated the
process of convergence. New methods of distribution, presentation and dissemination
are clearly also an important factor.
For artists who began working in the 1970s and 1980s flm and video have repre-
sented two distinct paths of related practice that share many of the same concerns and
historical precedents. Many video artists have experimented with flm, just as many
flmmakers have explored the potential of video as a creative tool. From the mid-1960s
until the beginning of the 1990s video and flm were distinct modes of expression
with diferent, though related production techniques. Film practice has developed a
considerable body of theoretical and critical discourse, which for the most part video
has lacked, has always envied and has more than occasionally drawn from.
It may eventually be perceived that the split between flm and video in the second
half of the twentieth century was a kind of technical and aesthetic diversion in the
history of the moving image, and that the convergence we are currently witnessing is
simply the end of a brief, if productive detour.
For the Vasulkas, Daniel Reeves, David Hall and many others who chose to work
with video at the time, the attraction of video was the potential of a new electronic
moving image medium that demanded to be explored on its own terms, and yet also
clearly drew on the flm medium with its rich traditions, its cultural and aesthetic
legacy and its critical and theoretical framework.
Video artist Robert Cahen (1945, France) who made his frst videotape Linvitation
au Voyage in 1973, worked with flm and video interchangeably during the 1970s,
often using a mixture of flm and photographic images in his works. His transition
to video occurred during a period when he was working with the montaging of
still imagery in Trompe loeil (1979).
Tis work uses a mix of images, techniques
and materials and signifcantly the Spectron video synthesizer (see Chapter 7). For
Cahen, the distinction between flm and video is characterized by the manipulation of
imagery after recording and is comparable to the relationship between natural sounds
and recordings used by composers of electronic music:
Te construction of a videotape is done above all from basic material that is
modifed to express what the artist wants to say. Its an approach similar to the
one used in musique concrte, where I started, which uses recordings, basic
material that is already complete. It gives you the texture, the quality of sounds
that will go into the work. Te work doesnt yet exist.
Tis relationship between video and music is an important factor in the development
of video art. Te infuence and impact of ideas and techniques developed in electronic
music will be explored in the next chapter.
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Te infuence of experimental music on the development of video art through John
Cage and Fluxism on Nam June Paik has already been discussed in some detail in
Chapter 1, and the relationship between sound and image will be further discussed
in Chapters 6 and 11, but there are other signifcant dimensions to the complex
relationship between sound recording and artists video. It could be argued that
unlike flm, video is a combination of sound and image. Te technical origins of
video recording are derived from principles developed from sound recording and this
relationship has been acknowledged by a number of important video artists including
Bill Viola, the Vasulkas, Robert Cahen and Peter Donebauer. Tis chapter explores
some of the most important and infuential composers and musicians who were
involved with the development of experimental music and sound technology, many
of whom provided a model and inspiration for video artists who came after them, or
who worked alongside them.
Te impact of sound recording on experimental music was profound and ofers inter-
esting parallels to the relationship between images the real world and the process of
video recording. For example the French video artist Robert Cahen drew on formative
musical experiences to develop his approach to video. Cahen studied electro-acoustic
music composition at the Groupe de Recherche Musicale (GRM) in Paris, part of
Frances national radio and television network, with Pierre Schaefer (191095,
France), the inventor of musique concrte, a form of electronic music composition that
was constructed from recordings of everyday environmental sounds.
Schaefer began experimenting with phonograph recordings in the late 1940s,
developing ideas which lead to his formulation of musique concrte, a term he adopted
in order to emphasize the sculptural dimension of his sound manipulations. Schaefer
created sound objects with recordings of natural and environmental sounds such
as bells ringing, trains, and humming tops, which were processed, transformed and
re-arranged using a variety of electronic techniques, including reverse recording,
changes of speed and removal of the attack and decay, recording loops of these sounds
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onto disc. In 1949 sound engineer Jacques Poullin and composer Pierre Henry (1927,
France) joined Schaefer to construct a large-scale composition Symphonie pour l
homme seul.
In his discussion and appraisal of musique concrte, writer and composer Michael
Nyman was very critical of both the approach to abstract sound composition and
their frst attempt at a major work using its principles. Nyman felt that Schaefer and
Henry had developed:
a curiously backward-looking technique and aesthetic, being unable or
unwilling to discover a method which would be hospitable to these new sounds
one fnds fugues and inventions and waltzes as methods of organizing sounds
which are typically not used for their own sake but for their dramatic, anecdotal
or associative content not for nothing was the frst classic of musique concrte.
Symphonie pour lhomme seul, described by its makers, Schaefer and Henry, as
an opera for the blind.
By 1950, Schaefer and his colleagues had begun to work with magnetic tape, making
their frst public performance at the Ecole Normale de Musique and the following
year the GRM was formed. Te GRM studio soon attracted a number of important
composers including Pierre Boulez (1925, France) Olivier Messiaen (190892,
France), and Edgard Varese (1883, France 1965, USA) who composed the audio
tape component of Deserts for tape and orchestra there in 1954.
Trough Schaefer, the GRM had strong links with the Conservatoire National
Superieur de Musique (CNSM). Tis network of connections between broadcasting,
musical and audio-visual institutions encouraged and fostered experimentation and
creative exchange between musicians, technicians, artists and other disciplines.
In parallel to the establishment of the GRM in Paris, was the emergence of an
audiotape studio at the WDR (West German Radio) in Cologne, Germany. Werner
Meyer-Eppler (1913, Belgium 1960, Germany), Robert Beyer (190189, Germany)
and Herbert Eimert (18971992, Germany), set up the studio in 1951, diferenti-
ating their approach from the Paris studio from outset by limiting themselves to the
manipulation of pure electronic sound sources using precise serial compositional
techniques. Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928, Germany) who had studied with Schaefer
in Paris, produced Studie I (1953) and Studie II (1954) at Cologne both composed
from pure sine waves. Te Cologne studio soon attracted a host of new composers
including Mauricio Kagel (1931, Argentina 2008, Germany), Gyrgy Ligeti
(Romania, 1923; Austria, 2006) and Ernst Krenek (1900, Austria 1991, USA).
Te studios purist electronic approach had ended by 1956 with the composition of
Gesang der Junglinge by Stockhausen and Kreneks Spiritus Intelligentiate Sanctus as
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both these works used a combination of electronically produced sounds and natural
sound sources, efectively blurring the distinction between electronic music and
musique concrte.
As was outlined in Chapter 1, on the advice of Wolfgang Fortner, Nam June Paik
had begun to work at WDR in 1959, and it was whilst in Germany that Paik frst
encountered the work and ideas of John Cage.
In 1951 John Cage, Earle Brown (19262002, USA), Christian WoIf (1934, France),
David Tudor (192696, USA) and Morton Feldman (192687, USA) formed
the Music for Magnetic Tape Project, an informal group working with borrowed
equipment and facilities and a fund of $5,000 donated by a wealthy young architect
named Paul Williams. Te group produced four works in its short life, including
For Magnetic Tape, a dance commission by Wolf, Octet I by Brown, and Williams
Mix by John Cage, named for its benefactor. Cages composition was formed from a
collection of between 500 and 600 sounds which were recorded, copied and carefully
catalogued and then selected and organized using chance operations to determine the
organization and editing. All the recorded sounds were frst divided into categories:
(A) urban sounds (B) rural sounds (C) electronic sounds (D) manually produced
(including musical) sounds (E) wind-produced sounds (including songs) and (F)
small sounds which required amplifcation. Each sound was also classed as to
whether its frequency, overtone structure or amplitude remained constant (c) or
varied (v). So, for example Cvvv would signify an electronic sound whose frequency,
overtone structure and amplitude were varied throughout its duration.
Williams Mix was Cages frst work for tape and he eventually rejected the notion
of audiotape composition, convinced that it was incompatible with his notions of
indeterminacy and live performance. Cage had pioneered the use of live electronics
in the concert hall in 1939. According to Michael Nyman, Imaginary Landscape
No. 1 was the very frst live electronic piece. Te composition employed two micro-
phones, one for the percussion and the other to pick up sounds generated by two
variable-speed turntables playing radio station test frequencies. Imaginary Landscape
No. 2 (1942) made use of an even wider range of electronic devices in addition to the
variable-speed turntables, including audio oscillators and an amplifed coil.
Te same year that John Cage composed Williams Mix he arranged a mixed media
event at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Tis event contained a number
of simultaneous actions and included Cage at the top of a ladder delivering a lecture
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with programmed silences, painter Robert Rauschenberg playing scratchy records on
a hand-cranked gramophone, David Tudor at the piano, and Merce Cunningham and
dancers among the audience, with the simultaneous projection of slides and movies.
Cage was particularly interested to move beyond pure music towards theatre and had
devised the piece with his companions using a scheme devised using chance opera-
tions. Tis event has often been considered the prototype for many later mixed media
happenings in the 1960s.
Infuenced by Cages use of chance operations, George Brecht (19262008, USA)
adopted the technique in the early 1950s to explore new ideas for his work. In 1958,
he enrolled in John Cages class at the New School of Social Research in Greenwich
Village, New York.
Brecht began composing theatrical musical pieces and between
1959 and 1962 produced a series of works grouped together in Water Yam, a series
of minimal musical event activities using simple objects and actions such as combs
or dripping water. Tese compositions comprised a set of instructions or score that
operated in a space between poetry and performance. As Brecht once described it:
Event scores are poetry, through music, getting down to facts.
Water Yam (19603) a boxed collection of George Brechts music scores produced
during this period, was an important infuence on the development of Fluxus, an
infuential anti-art movement formulated by George Maciunas (193176, USA).
Jackson Mac Low (192295, USA), an artist involved with Fluxus and one of Brechts
fellow classmates in Cages course at the New School describes the signifcance of
Brechts approach and its infuence on Maciunas on the development of Fluxus:
Maciunas principal idea, derived mainly from his interpretation of the works
made by George Brecht in the early 1960s, La Montes 1960 Compositions, and
to a certain extent my own verbal and performance works and those of Dick
Higgins, was that there was no need for art. We had merely to learn to take
an art attitude towards any phenomenon encountered. Making artworks, he
believed then, was essentially a useless occupation. If people could learn to take
the art attitude towards all everyday phenomena, artists could stop making
artworks and become economically productive workers. Works such as those
by George Brecht were useful as transitional means towards his state of things.
For many John Cage was the spiritual father of Fluxus. Not only because many of
the most infuential fgures of Fluxus had been enrolled in Cages class at the New
School, but also because of his particular approach to music, to notions of theatre, the
infuence of Zen and the use of chance operations. Cage had a notion of himself as
one of the many roots of Fluxus, but was also aware of the diversity and complexity
of the movement, and the difculty in defning or categorizing it:
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kind of a source, like a root; there were many roots and I was just one. Youve
seen the tree design that George Maciunas made of Fluxus. Well you recall that
the roots are given at the top and my name is connected with one of the roots.
So I wasnt the only one who brought it about, but I was one of the ones. And
I never had oh, a sense of being one of the roots. It was George Maciunas
who actually thought of Fluxus, who put me in his design of the tree with roots.
It was his idea. But his idea of Fluxus is not necessarily another persons idea of
Fluxus. So there could be, and I think there must be, so many people involved
with Fluxus who dont think of me as a member of Fluxus, or as having anything
to do with it.
La Monte Young (1935, USA) another composer who infuenced the formation
of Fluxus, frst came across the music and ideas of John Cage whilst in Darmstat
in Germany in 1959 (as did Nam June Paik). Cages infuence on Young was in
terms of the use of random numbers to determine duration, number of events and
timings, and the presentation of non-musical events within a traditional concert hall
setting. Unlike Cage, Young concentrated his work around single events or objects.
For example, in Vision (1959) Young used random methods to specify the spacing
and timing of eleven carefully described sounds to be made over thirteen minutes.
Similarly in Poem for Chairs, Tables, and Benches, etc., or Other Sound Surfaces (1960)
random methods such as consulting the telephone directory were used to determine
the timings for an event in which these items of furniture were to be dragged, pushed
or pulled around the foor of the concert hall.
La Monte Youngs Composition pieces of 19601, cited as an important infuence
on Maciunas formulations of Fluxus, were all of a singular event. For example,
Composition 1960 Number 10: Draw a straight line and follow it. Or Composition
1960 Number 2, which instructed a performer to build a fre in front of an audience,
or Composition 1960, Number 5, specifying that any number of butterfies be turned
loose in a performance area.
In October 1960 the Fluxus artist Yoko Ono (1933, Japan) invited La Monte
Young to direct a series of mixed media concerts she was planning to present in her
lower Manhattan loft (in the area now known as Tribecca). Tese events attracted a
sympathetic mix of artists and intellectuals, among them Marcel Duchamp (1887
968, France), John Cage, and Jasper Johns (1930, USA), and featured a number
of Youngs early compositions, including Composition 1960 Number 10 and X for
Henry Flint (1960) which was especially infuential. It calls for the repetition of any
loud percussive sound, repeated any number of times. Although Young decided to
abandon repetition as a compositional device in his subsequent work, X for Henry
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Flint was highly infuential on other minimalist composers (see below). It also seems
likely that this work had an infuence on videotape work such as Joan Jonas Vertical
Roll (1972) (see Chapter 8).
Many Fluxus musical events were concerned with exploring a relationship with
the audience as a social situation, or with a re-evaluation of aspects of particular
musical instruments, but generally there was a trend in Fluxus towards aggressive,
even destructive acts towards the cultural value or signifcance of certain musical
We have seen how this attitude towards for example the piano, was
extended by Nam June Paik to the television set in Chapter 1. Another connection
with Fluxus and the early history of video art occurred in 1963 at the Yam Festival,
organized by Robert Watts and George Brecht. Wolf Vostell staged a performance in
which a mock funeral was given for a television set, still playing as it was interred.
If musique concrte and John Cages Williams Mix can be characterized as music
created directly onto a recording medium, so-called minimal music,
began in a
similar way, but then evolved out of a reaction to such a compositional technique.
Karlheinz Stockhausens 1956 composition Gesang der Junglinge was instrumental in
bridging the gap between electronic music and musique concrte, blending electronic
sounds and taped voices. Stockhausen was also an infuential teacher and his approach
infuenced many artists and composers throughout Europe and the USA, among
them two young Americans, Le Monte Young and Terry Riley.
Terry Riley (1935, USA) began collaborating with La Monte Young in 1959 at
the University of California at Berkeley and in 195960 Young and Riley were joint
composers-in-residence for the Anne Halprin Dance Company in Los Angeles. After
Young left Berkeley for New York City, Riley began to experiment with repetition as
the basis for musical structure, making and manipulating audiotape loops to compose
M Mix (1961) which comprised recorded speech, distorted found sounds and piano
for choreographer Anne Halprins Te Tree-Legged Stool.
During a period in Paris in 1963, Riley gained access to the ORTF studios whilst
composing Music for the Gift (1963). A sound engineer assisting Riley to create a
particular echo efect he required, hooked two tape recorders together into the same
tape-loop confguration creating what Riley later called a time-lag accumulator.
Te basic idea is simple, but allows for a complex and gradual building of sound
textures. Te frst tape recorder plays back a sound, a moment later (the time it takes
the tape-loop to reach the second tape machines recording head) the second machine
records the resulting sound. Te frst machine then plays back this new recording, and
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after the gap, the second machine records the result. Gradually this process builds a
progressively complex layered sound track.
Tis technique has been an important
compositional tool for other composers themselves infuential on video art including
Brian Eno (1948, UK), and Alvin Lucier (1931, USA) (see below).
Returning to California in 1964, Riley joined the San Francisco Tape Center, devel-
oping a new instrumental piece that drew on the tape looping techniques that he had
developed. Te score for In C (1964) which does not specify the number of musicians
or the type of musical instrument, consists of 53 separate short musical modules,
each of which can be repeated as often or as seldom as a player wishes. Terefore
the individual performers move at their own pace to the steady beat of a pulse
through each of the 53 modules arriving in their own time at the end. Te notion of
individual performers operating in a mode similar to a repeating tape-loop to produce
overlapping musical textures was drawn form Rileys experience with composing for
tape, but adds an important unpredictability in that the live performers were expected
to interact in a way that draws on jazz improvisation.
It was not just In Cs use of constant repetition that would prove important.
More than any previous piece of minimalism, it also forcefully reasserted tonality
as a viable force in New Music. Its title should be taken literally: In C is defantly
and unashamedly in the key of C, and this at a time when atonal serialism
still ruled the New Music world. And its kinetic repetition was grounded in
a steady, unrelenting beat called Te Pulse, provided by one performer who
does nothing but drum out Cs at the top of the keyboard. By re-embracing the
primal forces of unambiguous tonality, pounding pulse and motoric repetition,
Riley threw down the gauntlet before the hermetic, over-intellectualized new
music mainstream.
Alvin Lucier became director of the electronic music studio at Brandeis University in
1962, and formed the Sonic Arts Union in 1966 with composers Gordon Mumma
(1935, USA), David Behrman (1937, Austria) and Robert Ashley (1930, USA) in
order to promote and perform each others music. Lucier was later appointed director
of the department of electronic music at Wesleyan University (1970). In 1968 he
began experimenting with compositions that explored the acoustic properties of
natural and artifcial spaces, of which his composition I Am Sitting in a Room (1970)
is perhaps the best known. In this work Lucier records the following speech:
I am sitting in a room diferent from the one you are now in. I am recording the
sound of my speaking voice, and Im going to play it back into the room again and
again, until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any
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semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you
will hear then are the natural resonant frequencies of the room, articulated by speech.
As described, Lucier recorded, played back and re-recorded the sound produced by
the tape apparatus, and with each successive recording the sounds produced by the
acoustic characteristics of the space are progressively reinforced, whilst others such as
the characteristics of the original speech are gradually eliminated, and by this process
the spoken word is systematically transformed into pure musical sound. Composed
in 1970, I Am Sitting in a Room was frst performed with 15 generations of the
composers speech at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in March of the same
year, accompanied by a series of Polaroid images by his wife, video artist Mary Lucier
(1944, USA) (see Chapter 13). Tis infuential work which has been performed and
recorded by a number of other musicians, and was conceivably an important infuence
on the 1974 video tape Tis is a Video Receiver by David Hall (see Chapter 8).
Brian Eno began experimenting with audio tape recorders in the 1960s, and
became involved with the work of Cornelius Cardew (193681, UK) and the Scratch
Orchestra. His experiments with tape led to the devising of a closed tape-loop system
that linked the output of a second tape recorder back to the frst, which was in turn
re-recorded along with new material. Enos work with British rock guitarist Robert
Fripp resulted in the frst application of his tape-loop system for Fripps band King
Crimson and later for Enos solo recording Discrete Music in 1975. Eno himself has
worked with the video medium, for example his installation Mistaken Memories of
Mediaeval Manhattan (19802) which presented a continuous real-time recording
of images recorded of the view from his New York studio on a camera turned on its
side to provide a vertical image.
American composer Steve Reich (1936, USA) frst began using audiotape loops to
produce Its Gonna Rain in 1965. Constructed by repeating sections of a fragment
of a speech made by Black preacher Brother Walters recorded in Union Square, San
Francisco, Reich played two identical loops simultaneously on two tape recorders in
his studio and observed that they gradually fell out of synchronization with each other
(or, as he called it, out of phase). In the fnal version of Its Gonna Rain, Reich used
eight loops of that same speech fragment to build up a musical composition packed
full of unforeseen rhythmic combinations. In Notes on Compositions 196573
Reich explained that his attraction to electronic music had come from an interest in
the musical potential of recorded speech: what seemed interesting to me was that a
tape recorder recorded real sounds like speech, as a motion picture camera records
real images.
Although Reich had been working with tape loops since 1963, the main impetus
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for this new work was the experience of working with Terry Riley on the inaugural
performance of In C (1967), a composition that simultaneously combined many
diferent repeating patterns. Inspired by Rileys use of repeating structure, and looking
for a new way of using repetition himself as a compositional technique, Reich decided
to play a recorded tape-loop against itself in a canonic relationship:
In the process of trying to line up two identical tape loops in some particular
relationship, I discovered that the most interesting music of all was made by simply
lining the loops up in unison, and letting them slowly shift out of phase with each
other. As I listened to this gradual phase shifting process I began to realize that it was
an extraordinary form of musical structure. Te process struck me as a way of going
through a number of relationships between two identities without ever having any
transitions. It was a seamless, continuous, uninterrupted musical process.
In Music as a Gradual Process Reich described an approach to musical compo-
sition that had developed out of his tape-loop pieces Come Out and Melodica, both
composed in 1966. Trough this tape work Reich became interested in the idea of
process music, defning his practice in a 1968 manifesto:
I do not mean the process of composition, but rather pieces of music that are,
literally processes . I am interested in perceptible processes. I want to be able
to hear the process happening throughout the sounding music.
Performing and listening to a gradual musical process resembles: pulling back
a swing, releasing it, and observing it gradually come to rest; turning over an
hour glass and watching the sand slowly run through to the bottom; placing your
feet in the sand by the oceans edge and watching, feeling, and listening to the
waves gradually bury them.
For Reich this was music in which a predetermined procedure determines both the
detail and the overall form of the music, and as such resembles very closely P. Adams
Sitneys formulation for the Structural flm. Reichs involvement with tape technology
had brought him very close to the sensibility of experimental flmmakers, and visual
artists of the time. In 1966, Reich had moved to New York City, and his music of this
period was often performed in visual arts centres. For example, Melodica (1966) was
performed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 12/68, and Piano Phase (1967)
at the Guggenheim Museum and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1970).
Music as a Gradual Process was published in the exhibition catalogue of
Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials at the Whitney Museum of American Art in
New York in 1969. Te flmmaker Michael Snow was one of the performers of
Pendulum Music (1968) on three occasions in New York art galleries between 1969
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and 1971.
Reich extended these ideas through works that included Slow Motion
Sound (1967), Violin Phase (1967) and Piano Phase (1967). Experiments playing a
piano against a taped loop in late 1966, had led to the composition of Piano Phase, in
which two live pianists beginning in unison, repeat the same pattern of twelve notes.
In 1969, working with electronic engineer Larry Owens from Bell Laboratories
in New Jersey, Reich developed an electronic instrument called the Phase Shifting
Pulse Gate. Basically speaking this was a twelve-channel rhythmic device for live
performance, driven by a digital clock, which could be fed up to twelve constant
sounds from either a microphone or electronic source. Each of the sound channels
is capable of gating (selectively allowing the signal through) for a controllable time
period, and of controlling the phase shift so that gating occurs within a specifed
time period. Reich built the machine and frst used it in a live performance at New
Yorks New School in April 1969. A second performance using the device took place
the following month using eight oscillators tuned to the same scale as four log drums
used in the same concert. Tis was the fnal performance using the device, as Reich
was dissatisfed with the musical qualities of these works.
Reich has himself expressed an interest in the potential of video as a medium of
expression. He has recently produced a number of large-scale works, in collaboration
with his wife, the video artist Beryl Korot (see Chapter 13) that attempt to integrate
an interest in sound sampling techniques with video installation. In Te Cave (1993)
and Tree Tales (2002) they have staged hybrid video theatre pieces that successfully
combine video and sound technologies to powerful efect.
Tere is a clear and crucial relationship between the development of experimental
and electronic music and video art. First and perhaps foremost, the seminal infuence
of John Cage on the development of Fluxism; his employment of chance operations
as a compositional technique, his use of electronic devices such as the microphone,
radio receivers, and his profound infuence on Nam June Paik, are all signifcant to
the subsequent development of video art.
It is also necessary to acknowledge the fundamental relationship between the
audio and video signals and the methods of manipulating and transforming them,
as has been stressed by artists including Robert Cahen, Steina and Woody Vasulka,
Peter Donebauer, and many others. Tis relationship links the development and
exploration of the related technologies and points the way to an understanding of the
nature of the potential of video as a fuid and malleable art form that parallels music
in its scope and power.
Te relationship between experimental music of the late 1960s and early 1970s
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and the development of artists video can be seen in the close collaboration and
cross-fertilization of ideas between key fgures in both disciplines. In New York City
for example, video artists, flmmakers, performance artists, musicians and composers
such as Alvin Lucier, David Tudor, Michael Snow, Steve Reich, Beryl Korot, Mary
Lucier, La Monte Young, Joan Jonas, John Cage, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Morman,
Vito Acconci, Richard Serra, Yoko Ono, Bill Viola, the Vasulkas and many others
presented, performed and debated their work in venues such as Te Kitchen in New
York, infuencing, and sharing ideas, concepts and exploring and investigating new
technological and creative potentials and possibilities. Similarly in major European
cites such as London, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, Cologne and many others, artists
and musicians attended each others events, performances, screenings and concerts.
Troughout the 1960s and early 1970s radical new approaches to art emerged in
Europe and North America; the Situationists, Fluxus, Conceptual Art, process art,
Arte Povera, etc., all eschewing the art object in favour of more ephemeral forms such
as performance, body art and installation. Tis radicalism included an active search
for new materials and media, alternative venues, new audiences and methods of
dissemination and a newfound political and social awareness. Tis prevailing attitude
united many artists, prompting experimentation with new forms and an interest in
hybrid approaches and collaborative projects, which cut across traditional media
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First published in 1936, Marxist critic Walter Benjamins infuential essay Te Work
of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction envisioned a radical expansion of the
infuence of technology on the development of art. His notions of the potential of the
arts for social and political change through its use of new and developing technologies
were free from traditional ideas about the hierarchical divisions between technique
and craftsmanship. Identifying the dawn of art as linked with notions of magic
and religious ritual Benjamin was critical of the aura surrounding the unique art
object, which historically demanded the viewers personal presence, most often via an
experience requiring a pilgrimage to a special, often sanctifed location the church
and monastery, the court of the nobleman, the museum or gallery.
Although written when television was in its infancy, and prior to the invention
of video, Benjamin (1892, Germany 1940, Spain) was responding to ideas which
had been envisaged by Paul Valery (1871945, France) who, in his book Aesthetics,
the Conquest of Ubiquity, had accurately predicted that images and sounds would
eventually be made available on tap to the householder:
Just as water, gas and electricity are brought into our houses from far of to satisfy our
need in response to a minimal efort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory
images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand.
In his essay Benjamin examined the gradual transformation of the art object
and its aura as technological processes of reproduction developed, beginning
with early mechanical processes including the printing press, the woodcut, and
bronze-casting, completing this analysis with late nineteenth- and early twentieth-
century technological developments such as photography, sound recording, and
the cinema. Benjamins thesis was that the increasing fdelity of the copy to the
original had progressively reduced the ability of an elite group to own and control
the power and infuence of art, which with undeniable political and revolutionary
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implications would bring about a complete reversal of the purpose of art in
For the frst time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the
work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever-greater degree
the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility
the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic
production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual,
it begins to be based on another practice politics.
Tis erosion of the aura surrounding the original artwork also had an impact on the role
and public perception of the artist hitherto historically defned and romanticized.
In Benjamins essay an exploration of this issue is limited to a discussion of publishing
in which the distinction between author and public was losing its basic character,
which according to Benjamin was becoming merely functional he notes that the
privileged character of respective techniques is lost. However, the wider implications
of this idea were grasped by a number of artists who worked with imaging technology,
especially those who made a decision to use video as an art medium in the late 1960s.
For example, Douglas Davis (1933, USA), an infuential American video artist and
writer deeply inspired by Benjamins ideas, understood that technological processes
had a directly liberating efect on the role and activity of the artist:
In the past, the role of the artist could be tightly controlled. A certain mode of
dress, background and physical craftsmanlike skill with the hand demarcated the
possibilities. Now the dividing line is blurring technology steadily reduces the
need for specialized physical skills in art.
In both his writing and his practice Davis saw the instantaneous live aspects of
video technology as an important step in a continuous process that would lead to
the eventual eradication of the spectator ritual in art the activity of, as he called
it, the going to the temple. Although by no means a Marxist, Davis and a number
of his contemporaries such as Frank Gillette, and David Ross, did subscribe to a
radical political, almost utopian ideal for art, with video as a signifcant and necessary
stepping-stone. For Davis and his fellow video activists the next step is to get rid if
the intervening structure, the cameras, monitors and telecasting circuitry.
Te American mathematician Norbert Wiener (1894, USA 1964, Sweden)
published his infuential book Cybernetics in 1948, and two years later the frst
edition of his book Te Human Use of Human Beings was published, discussing
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the implications of this new feld and extending Wieners ideas to a wider and less
specialized public.
Wiener had coined the word cybernetics from Kybernetes, ancient Greek for
steersman, to describe a new theoretical approach to the interdisciplinary study
of language, messages and the nature of control and communication systems in
machines, animals and humans. In Te Human Use of Human Beings Wiener posited
Society can only be understood through a study of the messages and commu-
nication facilities that belong to it; and that in the future development of these
message and communication facilities, messages between man and machines,
between machines and man, and between machine and machine are destined to
play an ever-increasing part.
Developing ideas that would eventually lead to the founding of cybernetics, Wiener
realized that the concept of feedback was crucial to an understanding of the way that
humans and animals make continuous adjustments in relation to their surroundings
and situation a process of prediction and control of the organism takes place within
the nervous system. In humans and animals, a small part of the past information
output is fed back to a central processor in order to modify future outcomes.
Cybernetics, subtitled Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine
was the description of a general science of mechanisms for the maintaining of order
within a universe that is heading towards entropy. Wieners notion of a steersman
controlling a boat through the random and chaotic forces of a fowing river to
stay on course is a useful analogy. He saw that there was a crucial connection
between control and communication. Te steersman maintains control of the boat
by constantly monitoring, adjusting and re-adjusting the rudder to compensate
and correct its course. Wiener sought to describe a general law in mathematical
language that was common to both the control of machines and of biological
systems. Cybernetics imbued new technical meanings to notions of communication
and language that could now be expressed via mathematics and equations, and
can be seen as part of a paradigm shift away from the Newtonian model of the
universe with its emphasis on energy and matter, to a model based on notions of
Information Teory, developed by the mathematician Claude Shannon (1916
2001, USA), is the other major strand of a new paradigm in scientifc thinking that
emerged during the late 1940s. Shannon, working on ways to develop a mathematical
tool for describing the performance of electrical relay circuits, realized that George
Booles (181564, UK) logical algebra, developed nearly a century before, could be
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used to build an information storage device, which paved the way for the devel-
opment of the digital computer.
Later, whilst working for Bell laboratories Shannon became involved with research
into the fundamentals of communication and information systems. In his research
Shannon was seeking mathematical descriptions of information through an investi-
gation into the nature of the laws of energy. His ideas, frst presented in two papers
he published in 1948 theorized notions connected to the transmission of information
via noisy media, which were fundamentally tied into the relationship between
energy and information. Shannon demonstrated that any message could be reliably
transmitted providing the right code can be devised. Although these ideas inspired
the technological breakthroughs responsible for the development of colour television,
for example, they were also more widely signifcant. In fact, his ideas were so widely
applied to disciplines outside his own that Shannon felt that information theory, as it
came to be known, had been taken too far. It was universally perceived that the infor-
mation model was very useful in presenting natural phenomena as complex networks
of communication rather than as intricate mechanistic devices as they had previously
been seen. Breakthroughs such as the decoding of DNA were a direct consequence of
such an idea, as was the development of Noam Chomskys (1928, USA) important
work on the fundamental structures of human language.
Wiener himself identifed the signifcance of cybernetics to a wide range of issues
in areas of thought beyond the originally defned discipline:
It is the purpose of cybernetics to develop a language and techniques that
will enable us indeed to attack the problem of control and communication in
general, but also to fnd the proper repertory of ideas and techniques to classify
their particular manifestations under certain concepts.
Tis notion of an analysis of general communication and the establishment of a clear
relationship between technological systems and human communication was highly
infuential. Te ideas of Shannon and Wiener were applied to many disciplines within
the related felds of science, engineering and technology, but they were also very
infuential on new cultural theories, especially those that sought to make an analysis
of cultural institutions which made extensive use of technological communication
systems. One very highly signifcant and infuential example of this is the work of a
Canadian literary academic turned media theorist named Marshall McLuhan.
Marshall McLuhan (191180, Canada) frst began to write about the impact of the
mass media and its infuence on a potential shift in human consciousness in Te
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Gutenberg Galaxy (1952) and Te Mechanical Bride (1951), but it was the publication
of Understanding Media (1964), that had the most direct impact on the development
of artists video. Understanding Media introduced McLuhans famous phrase the
medium is the message and presented his infuential notions about the development
of a global village brought about by the development of electronic communications
networks. McLuhans ideas were inspirational and motivating to the new generation of
artists who emerged in the mid to late 1960s indeed McLuhan argued that the artists
role in the deployment of the new technologies in society was both timely and crucial:
For in the electric age there is no longer any sense in talking about the artists
being ahead of his time. Our technology is, also, ahead of its time, if we reckon
by the ability to recognize it for what it is. To prevent undue wreckage in
society, the artist tends now to move from the ivory tower to the control tower
of society. Just as higher education is no longer a frill or luxury but a stark need
of production and operational design in the electric age, so the artist is indis-
pensable in the shaping and analysis and understanding of the life of forms, and
structures created by electric technology.
McLuhans notions of television as a cool, high participation medium, whose
fowing, unifed perceptual events, were widely discussed and debated by artists and
media activists who began working with video in the early 1960s. In Television:
Te Timid Giant, a chapter specifcally about TV, McLuhans description of the TV
image could ft easily into many video art manifestos of the period (or, for that matter,
considerably later, see, for example, David Halls Towards an Autonomous Practice,
1976, cited in Chapter 1).
Te TV image is not a still shot. It is not photo in any sense, but a ceaselessly
forming contour of things limned by the scanning fnger. Te resulting plastic
contour appears by light through, not light on, and the image so formed has the
quality of sculpture and icon, rather than of picture.
McLuhans notion of television as our most recent and spectacular electric extension
of our central nervous system infuenced by ideas formulated by cybernetics, was
compelling and highly infuential. Some of these notions now seem so fundamental
to an understanding of the medium that they often go unchallenged. Contrasting the
low intensity/low defnition of TV with that of flm, McLuhan saw TV as a complex
gestalt of data that did not present detailed information about objects, but instead
provided a difuse texture. He formulated television as an extension of the sense of
touch, involving a maximal interplay of all the senses. McLuhan saw this as the
reverse of most technological developments that he identifed as an amplifcation,
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and therefore a separation, of the senses. Television, on the other hand, presented a
mosaic space comparable in concept to ideas in modern physics, and most signif-
cantly, modern art, which reversed the process of analytical fragmentation of sensory
life. For McLuhan, this mosaic form was not a visual structure, but was more akin to
the sense of touch, requiring the participation and involvement of the whole being.
McLuhan contrasted this iconic mode which used the eye as we use our hands in
seeking to create an inclusive image, made up of many moments, phases and aspects
of the person or thing with a visual representation which deliberately isolated a
single moment, phase or aspect in time and space. For McLuhan the visual stress on
uniformity, continuity and connectedness, derived from literacy, was a technological
system for the implementation of continuity via fragmented repetition. Te TV
image and electronic information-patterns, like other mosaic forms, were instead,
discontinuous, skew and non-lineal. Tus, the televisual image is the antithesis of
literacy. Representational art, with its specialization of the visual (and extension of
the literal), is defned as viewing from a single position. Te tactual, iconic mode is
synaesthetic a complex mix of all the senses.
Following on from this is a notion that the tactual form of the television image is
its defning characteristic, that the form dictates or imposes its meaning:
It is the total involvement in all-inclusive nowness that occurs in young lives via
TVs mosaic image. Tis change of attitude has nothing to do with programming
in any way, and would be the same if programs consisted entirely of the highest
cultural content. Te change in attitude by means of relating themselves to the
mosaic TV image would occur in any event.
It is not surprising that McLuhans analysis of communication systems and the
structures of human consciousness were highly infuential on artists and media
activists. Mirroring the formalist preoccupations of contemporary art practice of the
time, McLuhans notions about the crucial relationship between shifts in cultural
consciousness and new forms of technology identifed video as a key development in
a comprehensive programme for social change.
Frank Gillette (1941, USA) video artist and founder of the Raindance Corporation
(see Chapter 3) compares McLuhans infuence on American art of the 1960s with
that of Sigmund Freud on the emergence of Surrealism in the 1920s. From the
perspective of the late 1990s Gillette sees the most signifcant art movements of the
period Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptualism and even the Greenbergian formalism
of Abstract Expressionism, as being, in the main, responses to McLuhans worldview.
Gillette posits that McLuhans ideas about the relationship between medium and
message began to be infuential during the same period as the emergence of Pop
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Art was displacing the dominance of Abstract Expressionism and as the distinctions
between high and low culture were being challenged. However, rather than being seen
as a direct infuence, McLuhans ideas were absorbed in an indirect osmosis:
Passing through the art worlds semi-permeable membrane like some unacknowl-
edged solvent. It was received within the art worlds precincts as a particular
strain of the overall eschatological heave (Mailers coinage) which branded
every aspect of 60s culture visual, political, theoretical and popular.
Gillette saw McLuhans notion of an overlapping of the end of the mechanical age
with the dawn of the electronic era as analogous to the end of Abstract Expressionism
and the emergence of Pop Art, directly quoting McLuhan: Te partial and specialized
viewpoint, however noble, will not serve at all in the electric age. At the information
level the same upset has occurred with the substitution of the inclusive image for
the mere viewpoint. In Gillettes view, Abstract Expressionism represented a very
specialized and noble viewpoint and Pop Arts aesthetic practice was all-inclusive in
its absorption of mass media imagery.
American video artist Martha Rosler (1943, USA) however, was more critical
of McLuhans approach, characterizing his view of the history of technology as a
simplistic succession of Technological First Causes. Pointing out that artists inevi-
tably fell in love with his notion of the artist as the antenna of the race, McLuhans
theories ofered both artists and community activists with what she termed the
false hope of a technological utopia based on the idea of simultaneity and a return
to an Eden of sensory immediacy. Roslers critique posits that through McLuhans
infuence artists were seen to be endowed with mythic powers enabling them to
re-apply notions of the formalist avant-garde to contemporary culture which fulflled
their impotent fantasies of conquering or neutralizing the mass media.
For example, Gene Youngbloods Expanded Cinema, published in 1970, virtually
paraphrases McLuhan at one point, describing TV as a sleeping giant. Youngbloods
book is an enthusiastic summation and comprehensive survey of the technological
communication tools and aesthetic preoccupations of the late 1960s. It presents a
post-McLuhan view of audio-visual technology, identifying expanded forms of video
as the key to a revolutionary reshaping of the nature of human communication.
Television is a sleeping giant. But those who are beginning to use it in revolu-
tionary new ways are very much awake . But the new generation with its
transnational interplanetary video consciousness will not tolerate the minia-
turized vaudeville that is television as presently employed.
But Expanded Cinema goes far beyond an analysis of 1960s attitudes to experimental
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flm and video. Te book attempts to trace the development of an externalizing of
human consciousness, a projection of human inner thought to the space in front of
his eyes. Youngblood enthusiastically endorses technological progress as a libratory
force, declaring that a fusion of audio-visual technology with the process of art and
learning was the key to the growth of the individual. Expanded Cinema, Youngblood
believed, would create a heaven on earth.
Tis intersection of political and social change, technological and artistic critical
transformations gave rise to an enthusiasm for a potential new image/information-
based society. Critic David Antin described the mixed metaphors of biology,
technology and political change endorsed by Youngblood and his contemporaries
as Cyber-scat a kind of enthusiastic welcoming prose peppered with fragments of
communication theory and McLuhanesque media talk.
Chris Hill identifes American confdence in technology and its potential to
produce a transformation in society in this period as partially underwritten by a
post-war investment in science and technology. Clearly McLuhans terminology
refects this attitude and its infuence on the arts, claiming art as a laboratory means
of investigation.
In the mid-1960s American writer and critic Susan Sontag summarized the
prevailing attitude to the crucial relationship between art and technology in United
States among artists and intellectuals, clearly refecting the legacy of McLuhan:
there can be no divorce between science and technology, on the one hand,
and art, on the other, any more than there can be a divorce between art and the
forms of social life.
Some British video activists, taking their cue from the more advanced American
models of independent production at the time, drew directly on the theoretical ideas
of cybernetics and information theory in their work. As described in Chapter 1, John
Hopkins and Sue Hall, experimenting with video as a tool for social, political and
creative change in London in the early 1970s were very conscious of the source and
origins of their inspiration on the nature of video and its potential as a communi-
cation tool:
Hopkins: My view of video was that it was a new communications medium. Tis
was my metaprogram my overview. When Sue and I started working together
in late 1973, she also shared that view.
Hall: I came from Shannon and Weaver and Cybernetics. Mathematic and
communication theory, none of which I claim to have fully understood
I wasnt thinking about art at all . But gradually I came to see it as a kind
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of communications sub-set . One of things that most interested us was the
theories that in the most general form would apply across all these areas .
What we wanted to know was if there were any general rules like relativity theory.
Hopkins: A general theory of communications.
Hall: We were into this as expressed mathematically by Claude W. Shannon of
Bell Labs in 194849 as an equation, out of which the international telephone
network was constructed the fact that you could pick up that computer now
and plug it in is actually dependent on the fact that those equations work.
Many of the artists who began working with video in the late 1960s and early
1970s were infuenced by the prevailing ideas of McLuhan, especially his notions
of broadcast television and its distinctive properties and the way in which those
properties afected the programme content and the underlying message. Te
Medium is the Message was a pervasive and powerful slogan, and the embodiment
of an infuential idea.
Te Marxist critique of Walter Benjamin and his notion that the powerful repro-
ductive power of the photographic process would remove the aura from the art object
certainly had important resonances for artists who chose to work with a medium that
challenged the hegemony of object-hood and stressed activity and the ephemeral.
Its impact on ideas relating to the rise of Conceptual Art, Body art and Fluxus is
signifcant and crucial.
Artists who sought a theoretical underpinning to their work with a complex
technological medium such as video were attracted to ideas that could be articulated
and explored using the language and insights developed through cybernetics, and
communication theory. Tey understood that these new concepts had a direct bearing
on the way that communication systems functioned and operated within society and
sought insights into how to engage with this new technological medium in a society
that was being transformed by it.
Although much of the early history of artists video is centred on the intrinsic and
unique properties of the medium, during the 1980s there was a shift away from this
tendency towards what the American critic and cultural theorist Rosalind Krauss
has characterized as the post-medium condition. Krauss is often cited as a major
infuence on the introduction of the ideas of thinkers from disciplines which had
previously been considered to be outside the study and practice of art. Tis group of
continental European philosophers, psychoanalysts and writers (nearly all originating
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from France) includes Roland Barthes, Jean-Franois Lyotard, Jacques Lacan and
Jacques Derrida. In A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium
Condition, Krauss argued that with the convergence of media (which is at least
partly a result of the rise of electronic and digital media), the earlier Greenbergian
conception of pure art forms that seek to explore and identify with their unique
formal properties had become untenable.
Derrida is the principle theorist of deconstruction a form of analysis that requires
detailed readings of any text under consideration, which has been infuential on the
analysis and discussion of contemporary visual art as well as the development of post-
colonial and Queer theory. Prolifc and infuential in Western Europe and the United
States, Derrida published three infuential works in 1967 (Speech and Phenomenon,
Writing and Diference and Of Grammatology) that established his reputation. In
these works, Derrida attacked the notion that the spoken word developed prior to
writing a tendency he called logocentrism, and a central feature of deconstruction.
Derrida argued that Western philosophy since Plato has been logocentric making
speech the origin and primary site of truth, with writing a secondary supplement.
According to Derrida logocentrism was a form of ethnocentrism; privileging Western
phonetic alphabets over all other forms of writing, establishing Western reason as the
sole criterion of knowledge.
Derrida maintains that deconstruction is not a methodology but an approach that
functions by exploring the dynamics of meaning through the internal logic of the text
under analysis. Derrida coined the term difrance (meaning both and simultane-
ously to difer and to defer) which is used to suggest that meaning is never fxed,
but rather, always in motion. Te concept of difrance is central to Derridas critique
of any theory of language that suggests that there can exist an idea that freezes the
perpetual shifting of meaning, and therefore also implies it cannot have a single point
of origin.
In his writings on visual art, Derrida has argued that the material support of a
work of art the canvas, the video screen or the celluloid flm-strip, has a tendency
to become invisible. In his essay Videor, Derrida discusses Gary Hills seven-monitor
installation Disturbance (among the jars) (1988) (in which Derrida himself appears)
declaring that attempts to defne the video medium in relation to its unique material
qualities were badly put, claiming that the specifcity of a new art is not in a
relation of irreducible dependence .
For Derrida, discourses on art seek to claim an authority over, or attempt to subor-
dinate the visual whilst simultaneously demonstrating how apparently silent works
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of art can also be perceived as authoritarian, and thus in Derridas view interpretations
are always situated in a dynamic relationship between these two possibilities.
Lacan was a French psychoanalyst who has had a very signifcant infuence on the
development of feminist theory, literary criticism and the visual arts, as well as on the
feld of psychoanalysis itself. In the early 1930s Lacan was for a time associated with
the Surrealists, and their infuence on his ideas of the fragmented body (see below),
and on the relationship between dream structures and language is signifcant.
Lacans frst important contribution to psychoanalysis; the concept of the mirror-
phase, is crucial to his theory on the origins of human subjectivity and desire.
Related to Sigmund Freuds concept of Narcissism, Lacan argued that a young childs
recognition of its own refected image in a mirror is the trigger for a contradictory
dialectical perceptual process in which the child recognizes itself as potentially auton-
omous and complete. At the mirror-phase this recognition of the self is illusory and
incomplete, and Lacan argued, an indication that the ego could be understood as an
illusion associated with a fear of the fragmented body a fear that the unity refected
in the mirror image could be under threat of destruction or disintegration. Tus for
Lacan the ego is at least in part an imaginary construct based on this alienating and
contradictory early identifcation with the mirror image.
Extending this initial formative subjective experience, Lacans concept of human
desire is related to a sense of a lack (or absence) of being rather than a desire to
possess something perceived as missing. Desire is for Lacan a dialectic concept a
wish to receive that which is complimentary in order to heal a split or division in the
Lacan postulated a similarity between the structure of the unconscious and that
of language, and in turn defned language as a system of signs that developed and
produced their meanings via their interaction, positing that meanings were never
fxed, but fuid. However, Lacan argued that certain key signifers, in particular the
phallus, occupied a more privileged status, which provided an element of stability,
but rendered him open to later criticism by the philosopher Jacques Derrida (see
An important literary critic and theorist, Barthes was principally concerned with
concepts related to literature, language and social interaction. Barthes argued that
all forms of writing refect social values and ideologies, and that language is never
neutral. Te publication of Mythologies (1957) brought him to the attention of wider
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public and in this work he sought to develop a critique to uncover and decode the
historical and political ideologies embedded within all forms of writing.
In the mid-1960s Barthes made a major contribution to the establishment of
Semiology (defned by its originator, the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857
1913, Switzerland) as the general study of signs within social life) and Structuralism,
which emerged during this period as the two most important discourses of contem-
porary thought, with the publication of his two seminal books: Elements of Semiology
(1964) and Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives (1966). In these and
subsequent works, such as Te Fashion System (1967) Barthes argued for a broadening
of Saussures original defnition of Semiology by insisting that all social sign systems
(visual images, flm, gestures, music, video etc.), could be analyzed and decoded.
In La Mort delauter (Te Death of the Author) published in 1968 and in Image,
Music, Text (1978), established a signifcant break with the traditional notion of the
importance of the creative individual artist in the understanding and interpretation
of any given work. In this infuential essay Barthes criticized this traditional approach
to textual analysis on the grounds that it considerably reduced the potential for more
complex readings.
Camera Lucida: Refections on Photography (1980), one of his most infuential works
(and his last book), is a powerful exploration of the meanings and power of the photo-
graphic image. Te book is an evocation of melancholic loss, infuenced by his grief
following the death of his mother in 1977.
Although Deleuse is considered a philosopher, his work is extremely wide ranging
and complex, and in addition to monographs on major philosophers (Bergson, Kant,
Spinoza, Nietzsche, Leibniz and Hume), he has written about the Cinema, Francis
Bacon, Proust and Kafka.
In 1969, Deleuse was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Paris
VIII where he met the psychoanalyst Flix Guattari (193092, France) with whom
he formed a long-lasting partnership, co-writing a number of important and infu-
ential books, in particular Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Tousand Plateaus (1980). For
Deleuse these works were partly a response to the political upheavals in France in the
late 1960s, opening up ideas for a new philosophy of desire in the 1970s. Deleuse
and Guattari were critical of Freudian (and Lacanian) ideas about the nature of
human desire, centred on Freuds Oedipus complex, and its notions of a repressive
and conventional family structure. Instead, they argued desire was polymorphous and
could be depicted as a complex tangle of roots comparable to that of the rhizome,
which could potentially spread in any and all directions.
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During the 1970s Deleuse was very politically engaged in a number of causes
including homosexual rights, Palestinian liberation and prison reform.
It was also
during this period that Deleuse formed a close friendship with the philosopher and
social theorist Michel Foucault (192684, France).
Deleuse published two infuential and important books on the cinema Cinema
1: Te Movement-Image (1983) and Cinema 2; Te Time-Image (1985), and their
impact on engaging with cinema as an art form is substantial partly because he
was the frst infuential philosopher to discuss the medium at such a detailed level.
Tese two works analyze the impact of cinema on the experience of space and time;
the frst volume discusses the movement-image in cinema using Charles Pierces
(1839914, USA) semiotic classifcations in the history of cinema before World War
II; and the second book discusses the development of the time-image in which there
is a diferent way of understanding movement, as subordinated to time. Te viewer
experiences the movement of time itself and consequently scenes, movements and
language has become expressive of forces rather than representative of them.
Kristeva is a philosopher, cultural theorist and psychoanalyst (and more recently
novelist) who has produced a substantial and infuential body of work across the
felds of political and cultural analysis, art history and linguistic and literary theory.
In general, Kristevas work is generally characterized as post-structuralist, along
with Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Judith Butler. She was a
member of the editorial group Tel Quel, an avant-garde literary journal (196082).
In 1969 Kristeva published Word, Dialogue and Novel, developing the infuential
concept of intertextuality: Any text is essentially a mosaic of references to or quota-
tions from other texts; a text is not a closed system and does not exist in isolation. It
is always involved in a dialogue with other texts .
In Semiotik (1969) Kristeva developed her theory of seminanalysis (coined from
a combination of semiotics and psychoanalysis) in which she explores ideas relating
to the limits of language, studying the desires and drives in the prelinguistic stage
of young children, which was then equated to avant-garde literature of the late
nineteenth century. Seminanalysis is Kristevas approach to a linguistic analysis that
avoids the text designing its own limits and stressing the heterogeneous nature of
Although Kristevas main concerns rest within notions of the politics of margin-
ality, her relationship to feminism is controversial and complex. Her ideas on the
relationship to the mother are central and also form the core of her psychoanalytic
practice. She has called for what she terms a civilized feminism which would include
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a re-appraisal of the signifcance and value of motherhood and an end what Kristeva
views as divisive concepts based on gender diferences, with women in phallic compe-
tition with men.
Publications and writings in the 1990s are less positive and relate to a sense of
generalized distress in society and lack of a sense of direction presented by her patients
during analysis.
Virilio is a cultural theorist who is best known for his ideas about the relationship
between technology, speed and power, related to developments in architecture, the
visual arts and warfare. During the 1950s Virilio studied phenomenology with the
philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (190861, France). In the early 1060s Virilio
began collaborating with the architect Claude Parent (1923, France). He participated
in the Paris uprisings in May 1968, and was made Professor at the Ecole Speciale
d Architecture in Paris and was subsequently involved with the founding of the
International College of Philosophy along with Jacques Derrida and others.
Although Virilio has been linked to both postmodernist and post-structuralism, he
rejects all such labels. Developing a war model of urban civilization, Virilio coined
the term dromology, the science of speed declaring that the logic of acceleration
lies at the heart of the organization and transformation of the modern world.
According to the writer and academic John Armitage, Virilio does not seek to diverge
from the notion of modernism but instead postulates a critical analysis of modernism
via a catastrophic perception of contemporary technology, or as Virilio himself defnes
his approach as that of a critic of the art of technology.
Virilios most important contribution to cultural theory is related to notions about
the signifcance of the military-industrial complex and its impact on the spatial
organization of cultural life in the city. He developed a model of the development of
society in Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology (1986). In contrast to the Marxist
idea, Virilio argues that the development of capitalism was not primarily economic,
but was instead driven by technological, military and political changes, thus putting
forward a military conception of history. Exploring and examining the relationships
between the development of information technology and the organization of cultural
space via the emergence of new information and communication systems in more
recent publications such as Polar Inertia (1999), Te Information Bomb (2000) and
Strategy of Deception (2000) Virilio has made an important contribution to the devel-
opment and emergence of Hypermodernism.
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Butler is a post-structuralist philosopher who has had a considerable infuence on
visual and performance artists working with gender and sexual identity issues and
concerns. Her work has also been instrumental in the development of queer theory,
through ideas and concepts explored in her two early publications Gender Trouble:
Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies that Matter: On the
Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), which draw on concepts from Western philosophy
psychoanalysis and feminist theory.
In Gender Trouble, Butler challenges established arguments of feminist theore-
ticians including Julia Kristeva (see below) and Luce Irigary, arguing that much
feminist theory provides a basis for a conformist sense of gendered identity, critiquing
the psychoanalytically derived insistence on sexual diference and further challenging
the notion of a separation of the linguistically defned terms of sex and gender,
countering that both terms are socially and linguistically determined.
Butlers notion of the performative draws on a Derridian reading of John Langshaw
Austins (191160, UK) speech act theory, in which speech is itself understood
to be a form of action; a particular practice that can be used to create and afect
reality through speaking.
Drawing on this concept, Butler posited that gender was
performatively produced, arguing against a pre-existing essential notion of male or
female prior to language. In Bodies that Matter Butler emphasized that her perform-
ative defnition of gender was not simply a matter of free choice, but rather that acts
of gender performance were shaped by cultural discourse.
Te philosopher Lyotard is best known for his book Te Postmodern Condition: A
Report on Knowledge (1979), but he has also written widely on politics, aesthetics and
philosophy. His early work focused on phenomenology, structuralism and politics.
At the beginning of the 1970s Lyotard focused on the development of a philosophy
based on Sigmund Freuds theory of the libido. Seeking a theory that would make
sense of the complex and diverse forces and desires underpinning any political and
social system, Libidinal Economy (1974) develops a philosophy of society using the
idea of libidinal energy as a theoretical fction providing a useful framework in order
to gain a theoretical understanding of the complex workings of society as a whole.
In later work, Lyotard rigorously explored the notion of postmodernism, defning
it as a profound shift of perception brought about by the changes in the organization
of knowledge. With the decline of labour, post-industrial society is centred on the
commodifcation of knowledge and therefore the traditional notion of progress
is rendered obsolete. Lyotard has defned the postmodern as incredulity towards
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metanarratives. Tese metanarratives can be defned as overarching concepts (or
grand narratives) about human history and the goals that legitimize knowledge and
cultural ideas. Lyotard felt the two key metanarratives in Western history centred
on a progressive movement towards social enlightenment and the progression of
knowledge. Following on from this is a sense of postmodernity as an age of fragmen-
tation and plurality.
Lyotard proposes a replacement of these metanarratives with a
multiplicity of little narratives which are disconnected and fragmentary.
In Te Sublime and the Avant-Garde (1984) Lyotard has revitalised the nineteenth
century notion of the sublime to identify works that challenge the rules of represen-
tation simply by being there and saying nothing.
Postmodern art for Lyotard has
an ability to disturb and this disturbing quality is a manifestation of the sublime;
postmodern art attempts to present the unpresentable and this contradictory
experience of pleasure and pain in the viewer is an experience of the sublime.
In recent years the convergence of hitherto distinct art media has been an important
factor in the rejection of modernism. Artists working with the moving image have
been infuenced by the work of a number of signifcant cultural theorists and philoso-
phers whose ideas, concepts and approaches from disciplines outside the boundaries of
traditional art criticism such as linguistics, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, feminism,
Post-Colonial and Queer Teory. Many of the most infuential of these thinkers have
developed critical ideas which are important to artists, critics, curators and academics
involved in the production and exhibition of contemporary art, and are particularly
relevant to lens-based media such as flm, photography and video art practice.
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Despite the overriding concern with the specifcs of the technology by artists using
video and a desire for social and political change, there was also an inevitable confron-
tation with representation and illusionism. Procedures such as the examination of
the light efects on the camera pick-up tube, the instantaneousness of the image, and
vidicon image retention, inevitably referred the viewer back to the intrinsic nature
of the electronic image. Stuart Marshall points out that in many ways this is the
antithesis of the modernist self-referential object. Tus, in their attempt to produce
a self-refexive modernist practice, video artists founded a new oppositional practice
centred on a critique of the dominant modes of representation.
Video artists working directly with the video signal developed a diferent angle,
often eschewing issues of representation altogether. In marked contrast to this notion
of the camera as crucial to video as art, British video artist Peter Donebauer pointed
out that the prime aspect of video for him was the electronic signal, stating in a thinly
veiled criticism of David Halls theoretical position:
this rather defates the theories of certain academics in this country who have
tried to defne an aesthetic based around television cameras, monitors and video
tape recorders. Video can happily exist without any of them!
American video artist Stephen Beck (1950, USA) who, like Donebauer, built his own
video-imaging tools, worked to free himself from the conventions of traditional video
technology, especially the camera and lens-based perspectival representations.
For me the direct video synthesizer functions not as something artifcial, as the
term synthetic has come to connote, but as a compositional device which
sculpts electronic current in the hands of an artisan . Another aspect of
synthesizers is that they can be used by an image composer to achieve specifc
images that exist internally in his minds eye, where no camera can probe, that is
to cull images from a subjective reality or non-objective plane.
As Gene Youngblood argues in his essay Cinema and the Code, in video the frame
is not an object as it is in flm, but a time segment of a continuous signal which
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creates the possibility of a syntax based on transformation rather than transition.
Using electronic imaging tools it is possible to create a moving image work where each
image metamorphoses into the next. Although this was prefgured in hand-drawn
animation flm, Youngblood points out that once the electronic image is produced
digitally, it becomes possible to produce a photoreal metamorphosis in which photo-
graphically real objects can be transformed:
It is possible digitally because the code allows us to combine the subjectivity of
painting, the objectivity of photography and the gravity-free motion of hand-
drawn animation.
Youngblood suggests that via the code (i.e. digital image manipulation of the
electronically produced photographic image) perspective becomes a temporal as well
as a spatial phenomenon. Tis technology enables the removal of the image from
the frame, treating it as an object, or image plane. Tis allows the creation of what
Youngblood calls parallel event streams, which enable new semiotic strategies. As an
example, Youngblood cites the possibility of images of past or future events sharing
the frame with a current event, contrasting this with mechanical cinemas restrictive
temporal perspective:
Tere is no temporal eloquence in flm. But digital video suggests the possibility
of establishing one image plane as present with other time frames visible simul-
taneously within the frame. Tis would extend the possibility of transfguration
(metamorphosis) into a narrative space composed of layers of time, either as
moving or still images.
For examples of pioneering video work which explores notions of the potential for
unframed parallel events occupying areas within a single frame, Youngblood cites
the work of the long-time associates Woody and Steina Vasulka, who are discussed
Central to Youngbloods essay is a notion about the crucial position of technology
in the development of human perception. He states that the evolution of vision is
dependent on machines, either mental or physical, citing Austrian flmmaker and art
historian Peter Weibel (1945, Vienna) who pointed out that human vision has always
been machine assisted, giving as examples the work of Durer, Spinoza, Vermeer and
the Impressionists.
According to American writer Lucinda Furlong, video image processing in the USA
had its origins as one aspect of a range of alternative strategies which sought to subvert
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the traditional broadcast television image and attempted to conjure up the new
realities associated with hallucinogenic drugs.
Furlong identifes the establishment of a connection between electronic
image processing and the modernist fascination with the inherent properties of
video as a key aspect of its move towards critical and curatorial attention and
acceptance. She quotes, by way of example, from the catalogue notes from the
frst exhibition of US video art at the Whitney Museum of American Art in
New York:
It was decided to limit the program to tapes which focus on the ability
of videotape to create and generate its own intrinsic imagery, rather than
(on) its ability to record reality. Tis is done with special video synthesizers,
colorizers, and by utilizing many of the unique electronic properties of the
It would seem, initially, that the image-processing video work of the late 1960s and
early 1970s opened up the way for the institutional acceptance of video art in general
in the USA. But the predominance of this approach was short-lived and by 1974
image-processing work was judged defcient by many of the critics and curators
who had originally embraced it, because of its perceived link to so-called modernist
pictorialism. According to US critic Robert Pincus-Witten:
Te generation of artists who created the frst tools of tech art had to nourish
themselves on the myth of futurity whilst refusing to acknowledge the bad art
they produced. [Te work] was defcient precisely because it was linked to and
perpetuated the outmoded clichs of modernist pictorialism a vocabulary of
Lissajous patterns swirling oscillations endemic to electronic art synthesized
to the most familiar expressionist juxtapositions of deep vista or anatomical
disembodiment and discontinuity.
During the period between 1965 and 1975, which could be considered as the
defning period of video art, there was signifcant research activity among artists
working with video to develop, modify or invent video-imaging instruments or
synthesizers. Tis frst generation of video artist/engineers include Ture Sjlander,
Bror Wikstrm, Lars Weck, Eric Siegal, Stephen Beck, Dan Sandin, Steve Rutt, and
Bill and Louise Etra, in addition to the well-documented collaborative work of Nam
June Paik and Shuya Abe. Te work of these pioneers is important because in addition
to exploring the potential of video as a means of creative expression, they developed a
range of relatively accessible and inexpensive image manipulation devices specifcally
for alternative video practice.
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In September 1966 Swedish artists Ture Sjlander (1937, Sweden) and Bror Wikstrm
broadcast Time, a 30-minute transmission of electronically manipulated paintings on
National Swedish Television. Sjlander and Wikstrm had worked with TV broadcast
engineer Bengt Modin to construct a temporary video image synthesizer which was
used to distort and transform video line scan rasters by applying tones from waveform
generators. Te basic process involved applying electronic distortions during the
process of transfer of photographic transparencies and flm clips. According to Modin
they introduced the electronic transformations using two approaches: the geometric
distortion of the scanning raster of the video signal by feeding various waveforms to
the scanning coil, and video distortion by the application of various electronic flters
to the luminance signal.
In 1967, Sjlander teamed up with Lars Weck, and using a similar techno-
logical process, produced Monument, a programme of electronically manipulated
monochrome images of famous people and cultural icons including the Mona Lisa,
Charlie Chaplin, the Beatles, Adolph Hitler and Pablo Picasso (see Chapter 10 for
a further discussion of this work). Tis programme was broadcast to a potential
audience of over 150 million people in France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and
Switzerland in 1968 as well as later in the USA.
It seems likely that these pioneering broadcast experiments were infuential on
the subsequent work of Nam June Paik and others. According to Ture Sjlander,
Paik visited Stockholm in the summer of 1966 and was shown still images from
Time whilst on a visit to the Elecktron Music Studio. Additionally, Sjlander is in
possession of a copy of a letter dated 12 March 1974 from Sherman Price of Rutt
Electrophysics in New York, acknowledging the signifcance of Monument to the
history of video animation, and requesting detailed information about the circuitry
employed to obtain the manipulated imagery. In reply, Bengt Modin, the engineer
who had worked with Sjlander, provided Price with a circuit diagram and an expla-
nation of their technical approach to the project, claiming he no longer knew the
whereabouts of the artists involved.
Te Paik-Abe Synthesizer, built in 1969 is one of the earliest examples of a self-
contained video image-processing device. As we have seen, Ture Sjlander and his
collaborators had brought together video-processing technology in a temporary
confguration to produce their early broadcast experiments, Paiks synthesizer was a
self-contained unit built expressly and exclusively for the purpose. Te instrument,
or video synthesizer, as it came to be known, enabled the artist to add colour to
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a monochrome video image, and to distort the conventional TV camera image.
Infuenced by the development of audio synthesizers produced in the early 1960s
by pioneers such as Robert Moog, video synthesizers drew on the fact that the same
analogue electronic processes produced both audio and video signals.
People like Nam June (Paik) and Shuya Abe were good examples of what we
would now call computer hackers, where this sort of kluging of found stuf would
happen. Te Paik-Abe Synthesizer was a color encoder from a color camera and a
video mixer. Tey didnt invent those components, they were found .
Extending a dialogue that they had begun in Tokyo in 1964, electronic engineer
Shuya Abe (1932, Japan) and Nam June Paik began building a video synthesizer
in 1969 at WGBH-TV in Boston, possibly spurred on by the work of Sjlander in
Sweden. Frustrated by the difculty of working in the conventionally designed TV
studio, Paik conceived of a video studio compressed into a piano keyboard:
Te editing process in VTR [video tape recorder] is very clumsy, worse than
in flm. I wanted a piano keyboard that would allow me to edit seven diferent
sources bang-bang-bang, like that real time editing. Te frst thing I thought of
was seven cameras with seven sources that could be mixed instantly by a console.
So the machine has two suites: the piano keys for instant mixing and also a tiny
clock that turns the color around, from ultra red [sic] to ultraviolet. Te player
can change the colors. Te seven cameras are keyed into seven diferent colors
themselves: one camera makes only red, another only blue, another so and so.
Te seven rainbow colors are there. Mixing them together makes what you see.
Te completed and functioning machine, initially dubbed Te Wobbulator by Paik
was frst used during Video Commune, a four-hour broadcast from WGBH in 1970,
in which standard camera images were distorted using the multiplicity of controls
available on the synthesizer. Paik described some of the features and complexities of
his machine to Lucinda Furlong:
Te console can distort the pictures once they come in from the cameras. Inside
there are many delicate devices. He (Abe) put many controls into the console
contrast controls, brightness controls, color contrast controls. Every knob on it
is functional, and there are sixty of them.
Te Paik/Abe video synthesizer, as it came to be known, was one of the frst of several
video devices intended to distort and transform the conventional video image. In
Tracking Video Art: Image Processing as a Genre, Furlong claims that video artists
and alternative media activists had been actively seeking ways to make video images
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which looked diferent from conventional television in order to challenge the insti-
tution of television broadcasting:
Image processing, as we now know it, grew out of an intensive period of experi-
mentation that for some, in a vague way, was seen visually to subvert the system
that brought the Vietnam War home every night.
During the late 1960s the research department of the French broadcasting network,
the ORTF, run by Pierre Schaefer (see Chapter 5) developed a number of prototype
sound and image processors under the supervision and direction of electrical
engineer Francis Coupigny (1936, France). Te most signifcant of these in terms
of video image processing was the Truquer Universel (Universal Faker) a video
modulating instrument, which was installed next to the video production studio. Te
Truquer comprised a central video image processor with the potential for an infnite
number of additional processing modules, accessed by variable slide controls, thus
it was considered universal. Image-processing modules available for composers and
producers to experiment with included image keying, and the potential to assign
electronically simulated colours to specifc luminance levels, positive/negative image
and colour inversion, image mixing and fading, chroma-key, the generation of image
masks for wipes, and the modulation of the video image via sound or music. Te
Truquer, developed in 1968 to serve as a device to facilitate new and experimental
television productions, was made available to flmmakers, artists and designers. A
number of experimental video works and television productions were produced using
the device, including works by video artists Dominique Bellour, Piotr Kamler (1936,
Warsaw), Olivier Debre (192099, France) and Robert Cahen.
Cahens work with the Truquer Universel began in 1968 when he frst encountered
the machine in the studios of the GRM in Paris (see Chapter 5), whilst a student.
In 1971, after completing his studies in music applied to audio-visual media, he
was ofered a research contract and asked to head the experimental video lab at the
GRM. Cahen had familiarized himself with the functions and capabilities of the
Truquer during his research as a student, but began to work with the instrument in
earnest with the making of his video tape Linvitation au voyage, completed in 1973.
In this work Cahen began to draw on his expertise and training in the electronic
sound manipulation techniques of musique concrte, experimenting with the potential
of video image processing to blend and combine multiple image sources including
16mm flm and still photography:
In this work I tried painting the image in movement, without hesitating like a
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child who puts too much colour on the picture, to make it dribble and vibrate.
I tried at the same time to make the black and white photos come alive, their
colours becoming superimposed giving a semblance of movement to the frozen
image and that fascinated me.
In this work and others (including Trompe loeil, Lentrapercu, Horizonatales coleurs)
made during the same period, Cahen drew very directly on his musical training
seeking to make works that were truly audio-visual in nature. His training had
taught him to listen to sounds in a decontextualized manner, disconnecting them
from their origins a mode of thinking that enabled him to look at images without
being limited to their original meaning or signifcation. Working with the Truquer
Universel he sought to develop new work with moving images in a way that he had
previously done with music. Te Truquer and later the EMS Spectron (see below)
enabled Cahen to approach the moving images in a similar fashion:
Te possibilities of transforming the image enabled me to distance myself from
the direct representation of reality as the main means of communication, and
to rediscover in the textures of generated images a diferent reading of reality.
Whilst European artists such as Sjlander, Wilkstrm, Weck and Cahen had explored
the potential of electronic imaging with pre-existing tools which had been developed
for the broadcasting of new experimental electronic imaging compositions, a number
of American artist/engineers during the same period developed their own video-
imaging and electronic image-processing instruments. Often self-contained and with
particular creative requirements, these instruments were designed to meet the specifc
needs of their own video work. (For further discussion of the work of Robert Cahen
see Chapter 10.)
In 1969 Eric Siegel (1944, USA) showed his Psychedelevision in Color at the Howard
Wise Gallery as part of the celebrated and pioneering exhibition TV as a Creative
Medium. Seigel, who had been experimenting with television and video since
the mid-1960s had, with encouragement and fnance from Wise, built a crude
video colourizer to add colour to an existing black-and-white television image.
Psychedelevision in Color was essentially a reworked monochrome image that used
video feedback and colorized efects to break down and distort a photograph of Albert
Einstein. With further funding from Howard Wise, Siegel began work on a video
synthesizer in 1970. Like many of this generation of video artist/tool makers, Seigel
was basically self-taught:
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I never thought Id see the end of it. It was one of those projects that was a little
too big and it was a heavy trip because I was taking on a level of sophisticated
electronics that was just a little above my head.
Although Siegal completed his prototype synthesizer, it was never marketed, as he and
Wise difered on how it should be developed. Wise sought a manufacturer to build it
under license, but Siegel was afraid that his design would be stolen, and preferred to
build it himself. Siegels synthesizer was never manufactured, although the colourizer
was briefy marketed, with ten units sold at approximately US $2,400 each.
Eric Siegel was only briefy active on the US video art scene. By 1972 he had
become disillusioned and unhappy with the direction he perceived video art to be
A whole sub-culture was forming and it turned me of it was a whole frame of
mind that the country was in. What was going on that I was a part of was more
than just technology. Tere was a human element, a human spirit. We were using
the technology; it was our servant, not our God.
Around 1968, whilst experimenting with the sonic generation of oscilloscope images,
artist/engineer Stephen Beck (1950, USA) began seeking more precise methods
of controlling light. His frst attempt to build a device was the Number 0 Video
Synthesizer, used in collaborative performances with electronic musician and
composer Salvatore Martirano (192795, USA).
In 1970 Beck was invited to be Artist in Residence at the National Center for
Experiments in Television (NCET) in San Francisco.
Whilst at NCET Beck
completed his Direct Video Synthesizer and used the new instrument to produce
a series of tapes called Electronic Notebooks. Intended as both documentation of the
technical research and works in their own right, these tapes were made by artists and
composers including Don Hallock (1940, USA), Bill Roarty, Willard Rosenquist, Bill
Gwin and Warner Jepson (19312011, USA) as well as by Beck himself.
Te Direct Video Synthesizer, intended as a performance instrument, was designed
to produce video images without a camera. Beck saw his machine as an electronic
sculpting device designed to generate four key aspects of the video image colour,
form, motion and texture. In a subsequent version, Beck extended the scope of the
device to include circuits to generate the elemental images of air, fre and water. Becks
stated concern was to open up television as an expressive medium and to go beyond
the manipulation of the conventional camera image to produce non-objective imagery.
In his essay Image Processing and Video Synthesis, Beck discusses the various
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approaches of American video artists to the construction and use of video-imaging
tools, outlining and summarizing the instruments in use at the time (1975), identi-
fying four distinct categories of electronic video instruments:
1 Camera Image Processing
2 Direct Video Synthesis
3 Scan Modulation/Rescan
4 Non-VTR Recordable.
In this survey of the range and variety of electronic imaging instruments, Beck
explains attempts by artists to explore the unique potential of video and to exploit:
the inherent plasticity of the medium to expand it beyond a strictly
photographic/realistic representational aspect which characterizes the history of
television in general.
Beck also identifed two tendencies in the designing and building of video-processing
instruments by artist-engineers:
1 Te images produced are a direct result of the circuitry and design of the
2 Te instrument has been developed in order to produce a particular visual or
psychological efect.
Tis type of instrument is designed to modify the monochrome video image from
a black-and-white television camera. It usually includes a colourizer, which adds
chrominance (colour) signals to the video signal, keyers and quantizers to separate
luminance value levels in the signal in order to add synthetic colour and/or to insert
additional images into the original. Further circuits may include modifers that enable
efects such as polarity inversion and mixing via the superimposition of multiple
image sources. Tis category of instrument includes the Truqueur Universel, the
Paik/Abe synthesizer, some of the image processors used by the Vasulkas, the Hearn
Videolab and Peter Donebauers Videokalos Image Processor
(see below).
Designed to operate primarily without a camera signal, these instruments contain
circuitry to generate a complete video signal including colour generators to produce
chrominance signals, form generator circuitry designed to produce shapes, lines, planes
and points, and motion modulators to move them via electronic waveforms including
curves, ramps, sines, triangles and audio frequency wave patterns. Tese instruments
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also contain texture amplifers which produce brush efects such as shading and
chiaroscuro and textural efects such as grain. Instruments in this category include
early digital computer processors such as the Fairlight (CVI), Stephen Becks own
Direct Video Synthesizer and the EMS Spectron designed by Richard Monkhouse
(see below). Beck also designed and built the Video Weaver in 1975, inspired by the
analogy between weaving and the construction of the television image. Te circuits
for Video Weaver were incorporated into his Direct Video Synthesizer and used to
produce a series of tapes called Video Weavings (1975).
In this process images are produced using a television camera rescanning an oscil-
loscope or cathode ray tube (CRT) screen. Te display images are manipulated
(squeezed, stretched, rotated, etc.) using magnetic or electronic defection modulation.
Te manipulated images, rescanned by a second camera are then fed through an
image processor. Tis type of instrument was also used without an input camera feed,
7.1: Stephen Beck operating his Video Weaver, 1976. Courtesy of the artist, www.stevebeck.tv
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the resultant images produced by manipulation of the raster. Examples of this type of
instrument include Ture Sjlanders temporary video synthesizer (19669), the Paik/
Abe Synthesizer, and the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor (1973) (see below).
Beck included this category for completeness. Tis approach is basically a prepared
television set, to present a non-recordable distorted display, with which resultant
images would need to be recorded using rescanning methods, such as Nam June Paiks
Magnet TV (1965), and Canadian video artist Jean-Pierre Boyers boytizeur (1974).
Tis category therefore also includes Bill Hearns Vidium Colourizing Synthesizer
(1969) as used by Skip Sweeny (1946, USA) in his video feedback work and by
Warren Burt in Australia.
Like Eric Siegel and Stephen Beck, Dan Sandin (1942, USA) was interested in light
shows and kinetic art. Initially working with conventional colour photography, it
occurred to Sandin, a trained physicist, that he could achieve more interesting results
7.2: Jean-Pierre Boyer with his Boytizeur, 1974.
Courtesy of the artist.
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using electronics. Trough his experience with light shows, Sandin was familiar with
the Moog sound synthesizer, and he began to speculate about the potential to create
a video equivalent around 1968:
We just considered the processing modules in the audio synthesizer, and what
it would do to the image if you ran the signal through a module that had been
modifed to have sufcient bandwidth to handle video. And that pretty much
specifed what the analog synthesizer turned out to be.
Teaching kinetic art and interactive sculpture at the University of Illinois, Sandin got
involved with video during the wave of protests in 1970 that resulted from the Kent
State riots, running an ad hoc media house cable-casting live political debates:
Tere was something about the black and white image that I found very attractive
and tactile. I remember I found myself stroking the TV screen and staring at the
TV image it became clear that this old idea of this image synthesizer and my
new attachment to video was something I could pull of.
Securing a US $3,000 development grant from the Illinois Arts Council, Sandin
developed his image processor over the next three years. His proposal had been
7.3: Dan Sandin with the rst IP, built by Phil
Morton, 1974. Courtesy of the artist.
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to develop an afordable programmable video-processing synthesizer combining
a number of important functions including keying, fading and colourizing into
one unit. Te Sandin Image Processor, or IP was designed as a set of stackable
modules, which could be reconfgured depending on the function or image
processing required. Like the Direct Video Synthesizer and the Videokalos IMP
(see below) the Sandin Image Processor was designed for use in live performance
situations. Unlike other artist/engineers, however, Sandin made a decision to make
the plans for the IP available for others to build. Sandin and video artist Phil
Morton (19452003, USA), founder of the video programme at the Chicago Art
Institute, spent over a year preparing a parts list and circuit diagrams for plans
that were made available to anyone who wanted them. As a result of this unique
approach, ten IPs were built by artists, interested in experimental video and
electronic imaging.
Steve Rutt and Bill Etra developed the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor in 1973. Rutt and
Etra obtained a US $3,000 grant from the TV Lab at WNET to develop a more
controllable version of Nam June Paiks Wobbulator (the Paik-Abe video synthe-
sizer), a modifed TV set which he used to make manipulated video images of Richard
Nixon and Marshall McLuhan. Bill Etra had approached Steve Rutt to suggest that
they explore the possibility of producing a Wobbulator that Zoomed.
Paik had fgured out (with technical advice and support from Shuya Abe) how
to make something move across the raster, but it wouldnt stay in the spot that
it had been moved to.
Te Rutt/Etra Scan Processor modifes a conventional video image by the electro-
magnetic defection of the electron beam of the CRT monitor display which is built
into the Scan Processor. Because the raster image rather than the waveform code is
altered, the resulting images must be rescanned re-recorded using a video camera.
Approximately 20 Rutt/Etra Scan Processors were hand-built and sold for approxi-
mately US $7,0008,000 each, before the partnership ran into fnancial difculty and
the operation was discontinued.
Woody and Steina Vasulka have made the most systematic use of the Rutt/Etra
in their video work since its inception in 1974, such as C-Trend (1974). Te Matter
(1974), and Art of Memory (1987). (See Chapter 10 for a detailed discussion of this
tape.) Woody Vasulka wrote an introductory paragraph about the Scan Processor in
the 1994 Ars Electronica catalogue for an exhibition he curated on electronic art:
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Te instrument called the Rutt/Etra, named after the inventors, was a very infu-
ential one. Etra, with his art afliations, had placed the instrument much closer
to the hands of individual artists for the right price. Almost everybody I respect
in video has used it at least once. Its power was in the transformation of the tradi-
tional flm frame into an object with lost boundaries, to foat in an undefned
space of lost identity: no longer the window to the reality, no longer the truth.
Various artists have used the video synthesizers discussed above. For example,
Gary Hill used the Rutt/Etra to produce Videograms (19801). Often artists used
a combination of image-processing machines, for example Paiks Merce by Merce
by Paik (1978) was composed of video images processed through the Paik/Abe
synthesizer, the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor, and various colourizers and video keyers. In
Complex Wave Forms (1977) Ralph Hocking (1931, UK), who had established the
Experimental Television Center in 1970, worked with signal oscillators designed and
7.4: Stephen Jones, Video Synth
No 2, 1979. Courtesy of the artist.
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built by David Jones and Richard Brewster, and then processed through a Paik/Abe
Ernie Gusella (1941, Canada) made Video Taping (1974) and Exquisite
Corpse (1978) with Bill Herns Video Lab, a combination of video switcher, keyer
and colourizer.
Other artists who developed imaging tools include the Australian video artist and
musician Stephen Jones, who designed and built his own analogue video syntheziser/
colourizer based on circuit diagrams provided by Dan Sandin for the IP which Jones
used in a number of works including Stonehenge and TV Buddha (Homage to Nam
June Paik) (both 1979).
Tom DeWitt Ditto (1944, USA) produced a number of early abstract works
combining video-imaging and cinematographic techniques such as Te Leap (1969),
Fall (1971) and Otta Space (1978). In 1977, he developed an early motion tracking
system using chroma-key techniques called Pantomation, and in 1978 he set up the
Video Synthesis Laboratory with Vibeke Sorensen (1954, Denmark).
7.5 Scanimate. Courtesy of Dave Sieg.
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who is well known for her later 3D and stereoscopic work using digital animation
techniques, produced a number of early abstract visual music video works including
Videocean (1976) and Moncules (1978), which she produced using the Rutt-Etra Scan
Ed Emshwiller (192590, USA) was trained as a painter and began experimenting
with video and computer imagery in the early 1970s.
Important early video works
include Scape-Mates (1972), Termogenesis (1972), and Crossings and Meetings
(1974), produced at the TV Lab at WNET/13 in New York. One of Emshillers
most infuential works, Sunstone (1979), considered a landmark tape because of its
representation of 3D electronic space, was developed using the Scanimate, an early
analogue computer system designed to produce real-time video image efects.
In 1984, the Australian electronics company Fairlight introduced a hybrid
analogue/digital video image processor and paint box called the Fairlight CVI
designed by engineers Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie that allowed the user to paint
7.6: Fairlight CVI 1984. Courtesy of Stephen Jones.
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directly over the top of, or with inputted video sequences in real time. Popular with
a number of artists in Australia, the UK, Europe and the USA in the mid-1980s,
the CVI had a range of unique efects that provided artists with a digital image
palette including freeze-frame, chroma-key, colourizing and posterizing, mirroring
efects and the ability to stretch and zoom the video image. Video artist Peter
Callas (1952, Australia) produced a number of important works with the Fairlight
including Double Trouble (1986), Nights High Noon: An Anti Terrain (1988), Neo
Geo: An American Purchase (1989) and If Pigs Could Fly (Te Media Machine) (see
Chapters 1 and 10).
UK video artist Steve Hawleys Trout Descending a Staircase
(1987) commissioned for BBC TVs Te Late Show and a number of works by
the Japanese Duo Visual Brains, were also made using the Fairlight CVI.
Steina and Woody Vasulka are two of the most prolifc and signifcant video artists
to have experimented with image manipulation technology in the United States.
Working exclusively with video and sound since the late 1960s, the Vasulkas have
taken a systematic and rigorously formal approach, evolving a working method
characterized by an interactive dialogue between the artist and electronic imaging
technology, in a process of exploration which they have termed dialogues with tools.
Woody Vasulka (Bohuslav Peter Vasulka, 1937, Czech Republic) trained as an
engineer and then as a flmmaker at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts. Steina
(Steinunn Briem Bjarnadottir, 1940, Iceland) studied violin and music theory and
received a scholarship to study at the music conservatory in Prague where she met
Woody. Te couple married and emigrated to the USA, settling in New York City
in 1965.
Initially Steina worked as a freelance musician, and Woody was employed as a
multi-screen flm editor, but by 1969, they had decided to work exclusively with
video, producing their frst joint video tape Participation that same year. Soon
involved in the core of the New York avant-garde flm and experimental video scene,
they co-founded Te Kitchen in 1971 in order to continue and extend a collaborative
exchange with other artists and activists working with video, sound and performance.
Over a period which continues up to the present, the Vasulkas have explored the
potential for video via a comprehensive body of work which seeks to provide the
foundation for a new electronic language and to explore and defne the frontiers of
digital and televisual space. In a recent interview, Woody explained his early fasci-
nation with the electronic image and the political implications of his decision to move
from flm to video in the late 1960s:
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Te idea that you can take a picture and put it through a wire and send it to
another place, you can broadcast from one place to another this idea of an
ultimate transcendence, magic, a signal that is organized to contain an image.
Tis was no great decision, it was clear to me that there was a utopian notion to
this, it was a radical system and so there was no question of deciding that this
was it. Also I was not very successful in making flms, I had nothing to say with
flm. Tis new medium was open and available and just let you work without a
Te Vasulkas characterize their early approach to video as primarily didactic, for
many years working with the materiality of the video image towards the development
of a vocabulary of electronic procedures unique to the construction of a time/
energy object. Tey saw this formal approach to video as very much aligned with the
American avant-garde flm movement of the time, and felt initially that they were part
of a new wave of formal experiment in video:
when we conceived of video as being the signal the energy and time and all
of that, we thought we were right there, smack in the middle of it. Tese were
the radical times in experimental flm and there were all these people starting
up in video. We were all discovering this together. We erroneously thought that
everybody conceived of video this way: this time/energy construction. Now I
realize we were very much alone. We were never lonely because we thought we
were in the middle of it, but we were. We never had any followers who practiced
this time-energy organization.
Tis conception of video as pure signal enabled the Vasulkas to identify the signif-
cance of the fundamental relationship between sound and image in video, an inherent
property of the electronic medium that set it apart from flm, and it was an explo-
ration of this idea that characterized their earliest work. Steina sees this relationship
as crucial to an understanding of video as a medium for art:
It was the signal, and the signal was unifed. Te audio could be video and the
video could be audio. Te signal could be somewhere outside and then inter-
preted as an audio stream or a video stream. It was very consuming for us, and
we have stuck to it . Video always came with an audio track, and you had to
explicitly ignore it not to have it.
Tis exploration of the relationship between the electronic encoding of picture and
sound also provided the Vasulkas with their frst model for an emerging dialogue
with electronic tools the audio synthesizer, an instrument which also enabled them
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to begin to explore pure video imagery which was free from the camera, or more
specifcally, from images produced via the lens. For the Vasulkas, it was a question
of exploring a potential for video which was entirely diferent from either flm or
broadcast television:
How do you interact with the television screen? Its a time construct.
Normally it constructs a frame the illusion or representation of a frame,
and its normally organized so precisely that you are not supposed to see that
its actually organized line by line using some kind of oscillators inside and if
you turn the television on when there is no broadcast signal, there are free-
running oscillators two horizontal and vertical oscillators. As soon as there is
a broadcast signal it locks onto it, it becomes a slave to a master which is the
broadcast signal. Te signal itself governs. So we would put into the input a
sound oscillator or oscillators, and we saw for the frst time that we could get
an image from a source other than the camera. So our discussion was about
departing from the camera, which television insisted upon having, and still
does. Te second principle was to get the tools to organize time and energy
in order to produce a visual or other artefacts. So we started with interference
patterns. Interfering with that time structure, anytime you interfered with that
it would organize itself and that was our entrance into the synthetic world from
the audio tools.
Working with electronic imaging technology to produce video works in this period,
the Vasulkas were not interested in making abstract video, but were attempting
to develop a vocabulary of electronic images through a systematic deconstruction
process. Alongside their videotape and multi-screen works produced throughout
the 1970s, the Vasulkas developed a range of special machines in collaboration with
a number of electronic engineers and makers designed to explore and develop a
medium-specifc vocabulary, the most important of which were:
Te Field Flip-Flop Switcher (1971). A variable-speed programmable vertical
interval switcher which enabled selection between two image sources, produced by
George Brown.
Te Dual Colorizer (1972). A two-channel device for the colourization of black-
and-white video images according to diferences in the grey scale, made by Eric Siegel.
Te Multikeyer (1973). A device that can assign up to six layers of separate video
images, allowing manipulation of their foreground/background relationships.
Te Programmer (1974). A programmable control device for the automatic
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7.7: Woody Vasulka, C-Trend,
1974. Courtesy of the artist.
7.8: Woody Vasulka1974.
Courtesy of the artist.
7.9: Woody Vasulka, C-Trend,
1974. Courtesy of the artist.
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operation of a stored sequence of instructions for the Multikeyer. Both constructed
by George Brown.
Te Rutt/Etra Scan Processor (1974). As described above, a device which used
a programmable defection system of the CRT to manipulate standard television
Jefrey Schier describes what he calls the Vasulka efect in the section of the Ars
Electronica catalogue on the Rutt/Etra:
Te rasters size, position and intensity can each be modulated through voltage
control signals. Tese voltage control signals fulfl a commercial function: to
generate swooping titles and sliding graphics. A more esoteric use is demon-
strated in the Vasulka Efect. Te input video brightness connects to the
vertical position control. Tis causes the brighter parts of the video to pull
the raster lines upward. When combined with other synthetic waveforms, the
raster forms a three-dimensional contour map where video brightness deter-
mines elevation. Te generation of video objects built from the underlying raster
structure is evident in videotapes created by the Vasulkas.
Te Rutt/Etra Scan Processor and other machines enabled the Vasulkas to produce a
body of work with a very clearly identifed analytic objective. For example, in C-Trend
(1974), Woody Vasulka used the Rutt-Etra Scan Processor to manipulate a video
image of urban trafc fow. Te horizontal lines of the video luminance signal are
translated into a graphic display. Te video frame, or raster, has been reconfgured,
making visible the space between frames -the horizontal and vertical blanking.
Time/Energy Structure of the Electronic Image (19745) was also produced exclu-
sively with the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor (Rutt/Etra model 4). In an exploratory
article, designed to open up further dialogue, Woody Vasulka set out his intentions,
and identifed the infuence of this new tool on his ideas:
Compared with my previous work on videotape, the work with the Scan
Processor indicates a whole diferent trend in my understanding of the electronic
image. Te rigidity and total confnement of time sequences have imprinted a
didactic style on the product. Improvisational modes have become less important
than an exact mental script and a strong notion of the frame structure of the
electronic image. Emphasis has shifted towards a recognition of a time/energy
object and its programmable building element the waveform.
In both these tapes Vasulka was interested in the Scan Processors ability to produce
non-camera imagery in which the light/code interface occurs at the video monitor
of the processor, with the video waveform displayed as a visible image. Vasulkas
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intention was to systematically explore the potential image manipulations of the
Scan Processor with the larger purpose of laying the foundations for the estab-
lishment of a new visual language free from the constraints of the conventional
lens-based image:
To me this indicates a point of departure from light/space image models closely
linked to and dependent upon visual-perceptual references and maintained
through media based on the camera obscura principle. It now becomes possible
to move precisely and directly between a conceptual model and a constructed
image. Tis opens a new self-generating cycle of design within consciousness
and the eventual construction of new realities without the necessity of external
referents as a means of control.
Te work in this period, and Vasulkas description of his thinking and the infuence
of the instrument on his ideas, demonstrates the evolution of the process of the
Vasulkas art. As is clear from the range of instruments listed above, the Vasulkas did
not work exclusively with the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor. Te Matrix Series (19702)
for example, was developed using the video keyer a device for combining multiple
audio and video signals to produce a series of works of layered multiple images and
sounds. Te Matrix Series, produced with an almost scientifc rigour, explored the
limits of existing video and audio technologies, and the boundaries between analogue
and digital imaging systems. Early proponents of multi-monitor video, the Vasulkas
presented Matrix 1, a compilation of works from the Matrix Series, as a video array, a
bank of twenty monitors.
Tis work presents a sequence of abstract forms that move
in synchronized horizontal waves across this feld of monitors.
Woody and Steinas collaborative work across more than 30 years of commitment
to video is complex; the Vasulkas have constantly infuenced, inspired and challenged
each other. Teir oeuvre includes scores of works; collaborative video tapes, multi-
screen displays and installations, and live performances as well as individual tape
works and installations.
For Steina this collaborative infuence led to the development of an extended series
of works called Machine Vision, begun in 1975, which include Signifying Nothing
and Sound and Fury (both 1975), Allvision (1976), Switch! Monitor! Drift! (1977),
Summer Salt (1982) and Te West (1983). Tese works all feature an interrelationship
between a mechanical camera support and an environment, which brings to mind
the parallel work of the English landscape flmmaker Chris Welsby and the work of
Michael Snow in La Rgion Centrale (1971) (see Chapter 4).
Te Vasulkas consider the development of the Machine Vision series to be part of
the dialoguing process; both with each other and with the machines they developed:
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7.10: Steina, Violin Power,
1978. Courtesy of the artist.
7.11: Steina, Violin Power,
1978. Courtesy of the artist.
7.12: Steina, Violin Power,
1978. Courtesy of the artist.
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First of all, we have always wanted to be inspired by the machines, we always
wanted to have an equal partnership where the machines will suggest to us what
we do; or the machine shows us. You put a camera on a machine and you see
what it does. Its not imposing your superior view on the camera. Especially
for me it led to this whole thinking about what is the hegemony of the human
eye, and why are we showing everything from this point of view, and who is
the cameraman to tell the rest of the world what they can see, wasnt it just out
of the view of the camera that all of the action was? All the things that I had
never thought about before because I was a musician. Tis whole idea of the
tools as hardware, and then the tools as the signal and signal processing was very
important, and there was the dialogue in between.
Although the majority of video artist-engineers involved in producing hardware specif-
ically for development of their own work were based in the United States, there were
several British artists engaged in comparable activities, two of the most signifcant are
Richard Monkhouse and Peter Donebauer.
7.13: Steina, All Vision Machine, 1976. Courtesy of the artist.
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Richard Monkhouse (1950, UK) is a self-taught electronics engineer. After graduating
with a Masters degree in Natural Sciences from Jesus College, Cambridge in 1972,
Monkhouse worked on government defence projects for a year at Marconi-Elliot Avionic
Systems, where he learned how to design circuits all those resistor values had been
a mystery. He then joined EMS Ltd. (Electronic Music Studios), a London-based
company specializing in the manufacture of sound synthesizers, initially involved with
the design of a video display component for a new audio instrument:
Nobody else at EMS had much expertise in video and I was, if you like, a
promising newcomer/ slave. I was given the job of designing some video sync.
circuitry. So I got a colour video monitor and a sync circuit and I started to
plug direct RGB video signals from the digital timing circuit into the colour
monitor. I suddenly realized how amazing pure colour video imagery actually
is. In fact I got so excited by the pure colours that I was getting that I damaged
the Trinitron monitor feeding in stronger and stronger colours, I heated up and
bent the masks!
Intrigued by the visual quality and purity of the colour images he had been able to
produce, Monkhouse developed a prototype video instrument which went much
further than simply generating coloured stripes and squares: I thought: the video
synth, what a concept. Ive never heard of that before: Let me see if I can make one.
Monkhouses prototype, initially named the Spectre, generated considerable
interest at EMS, and was soon taken up by the company director Peter Zinovief.

Te machine was capable of taking a monochrome video camera feed, colourizing the
image to eight levels with digital control of colour brightness. After further demon-
strations in the UK, a colour encoder was added, enabling the output of the Spectre
to be recordable.
For the basic layout and confguration of his video synthesizer, Monkhouse drew
on the design of the EMS VCS 3 audio synth, which featured a pin-based patch
board, giving the instrument considerable fexibility by facilitating countless routing
possibilities without the need to resort to an enormous patch feld of video connectors.
Although the Spectre was a novel idea with an untested market, EMS manufac-
tured and actively promoted the instrument, making it available for 4,500 in 1974.
In the December 1974 issue of Video and Audio-Visual Review, a full colour image
produced via the Spectre appeared on the cover, and the magazine contained a
substantial article written by Monkhouse entitled Te Moving Art of Video Graphics
or How to Drive a Spectre. Comprehensively illustrated with images and diagrams,
this six-page article presented in considerable detail the functions and operations of
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the prototype Spectre. Monkhouse also outlined the basic philosophy and approach
behind the design of his instrument:
Up to now there has been little work on direct video synthesis most efects
units (such as wipe generators, chromakey units, and colourizers) have been kept
separate, and only used directly to treat signals that originate from a conventional
camera scene set up. In our Spectre video synthesizer, a diferent concept has
been used; rather than produce another special efects unit I have endeavoured
to group together units with a highly perceptual impact in a way that gives total
freedom to combine shapes and colours logically, and in a very general way.
David Kirk, reviewing the production version of the now renamed Spectron the
following year, also discussed the machine in some depth, using many of the same
diagrams and illustrations featured in Monkhouses article, considering its uses and
potential market:
Tis is the most fascinating tool that could ever be ofered to the abstract artist
whose imagination is better than his brushwork. More important, it is the ideal
basis from which to commence a study of that relatively new art form: electronic
painting. Fabric design, television special efects, perception studies, and the
ultimate discotheque light show are among the applications suggested by the
manufacturer. I could add to perception studies my own suggestion of post-
perception studies since working with the Spectron has greatly increased my
hitherto limited ability to see colour images with my eyes closed.
Although working as an electronics engineer and employed to develop the new
prototype, Monkhouse was not simply interested in the technology for its own sake,
but wanted to make creative use of the machine he had designed. Even before leaving
7.14: Spectre prototype, 1974. Courtesy
of EMS.
7.15: EMS Spectron (Production model), 1975.
Courtesy of EMS.
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EMS in 1975, Monkhouse had begun to use the Spectron to produce his own video
I was fascinated with its potential, not in a technical way, but because of what
it could do. I was interested to explore what it could do within its limitations,
and to explore what I thought its powers were given the limitations of what I
had available to me. I wasnt in an art college, and I didnt have access to a lot of
colour cameras. I only had the resources that I got from EMS.
Te idea to work with video as a creative medium hadnt occurred to Monkhouse
until he had built the encoder for the Spectron. It was also around this time that
cheaper colour video recorders were becoming available in the UK, and it was this
further impetus that enabled Monkhouse to begin producing his own video work,
including experimentation with video feedback.
Monkhouse had been inspired by the computer flm work of John (191795,
USA) and James Whitney (192181, USA). In 1971 he attended a lecture by John
Whitney Jr., who had recently been given a grant by IBM for a project to reconstruct
the senior Whitneys early work. Drawing on these inspirations, Monkhouse began to
produce video work with a combination of direct video synthesis, 16mm flm loops
of computer graphics displays, video feedback and oscilloscope patterns, cutting his
images to pre-recorded music tracks. Working with the Spectron in combination with
other computer and video equipment of his own design, Monkhouse continued to
experiment with video and computer animation, producing a number of innovative
works including Shine on You Crazy Diamond (1977) and Transform (1978). He has
continued to experiment with mathematically generated images, working with IBM
PC-based raster graphic displays.
As has been previously discussed, the French video artist Robert Cahen systemati-
cally explored the capabilities of the Spectron in a series of videotapes he made in the
late 1970s. Initially working with the Truquer Universel developed at the GRM, as
discussed previously, Cahen turned his attention to the Spectron which he discovered
whilst working at the INA (Institut National de l Audiovisuel), producing Sans Titre
(1977), LEclipse (1979), Trompe loeil (1979) and Lentapercu (1980). Te design
and architecture of the Spectron and its afnity with audio synthesizers was an
important factor here and connects to issues previously discussed in connection with
experimental music (see Chapter 5). Cahen was especially interested in the Spectrons
capacity to generate an electronic weave of imagery to produce a kind of curtain
that gives a craving to see what is hidden behind. In fact, at this time Cahen was so
entranced with the machine and its capabilities that he was dubbed Spectroman by
his colleagues at the INA!
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Images of the Spectron also feature in another French artists work. Chris Markers
flm Sans Soleil (1982) presents images of a fctional Japanese video artist operating the
controls of the synthesizer, with close-ups of the device and some resultant processed
images. EMS sold a number of Spectrons overseas for example, in Australia the
video artist and electronic music composer Warren Burt (1949, USA) worked with
one of the earliest Spectrons to develop an extended series of works including Five
Moods (3x4x) (for Ned Sublette), Return to Uranus (after Ruggles) Veils 2, Watermusic,
Dazzler (after Monk) and Gorgeous Formalisms (Even 5 More Moods, Yet) (all 1979).

Besides this impact on work by a number of signifcant international artists, Richard
Monkhouses Spectron also caught the attention of an artist working closer to home.
In 1974 video artist Peter Donebauer, interested in the potential of the Spectron video
synthesizer, visited Richard Monkhouse at EMS in Putney, south London. Tis initial
meeting was the beginning of a collaboration that lasted many years and included the
building of several video instruments and a tour of live video/music performances
(see below).
With the intention of fnding a way to continue the abstract video work he had
been producing using the colour TV studio at the Royal College of Art, Donebauer
was seeking a machine that shared characteristics with the Spectron. Essentially he
wanted a compact, afordable camera-processing instrument which combined some
of the basic features of a conventional studio video mixer capable of cross fades, a
keyer and a video wipe generator, a multiple colourizer plus a genlocked sync. pulse
generator and encoding/decoding cards. Agreeing to work together, Donebauer and
Monkhouse set out to design and build such an instrument.
In his article Video Art and Technical Innovation Peter Donebauer used Stephen
Becks categorization to provide a context for a discussion of his own approach to
working with video.
His particular interest had been to develop video work that
explored and established relationships between music and visual phenomena. Inspired
by the work of Teodore Schwenk, the author of the book Sensitive Chaos (1963), who
developed the drop picture technique to photograph the surface patterning of water,
Donebauer worked with a Portapak to record video images derived from a homemade
device to vibrate a thin flm of water over a loudspeaker. Tese preliminary black-and-
white sketches formed the basis of more ambitious work that followed.
Forming a collaborative partnership with composer/musician Simon Desorgher,
Donebauer began working in the television studio at the Royal College of Art to
explore parallels between electronic music and colour video. Tese collaborations,
based on notions of live feedback and improvisation between video artist and
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musician, were an attempt to produce visual work composed from abstract natural
forms using music as a model:
Te major theme that emerged from working in the studio was the whole notion
of the feedback process . Te performance itself is a feedback situation, and
when you point the camera at a monitor you get these feedback patterns. I
became very interested in the fact that the resulting images from video feedback
were natural forms. Tey were organic-spirals, eddies, obviously related to
the phenomenon that creates shells, galaxies, etc. Trough this process I was
suddenly thrown back into my earlier fascination with nature. Here I was,
probably using the most advanced technical equipment available to an artist at
the time, and suddenly I realized these electronic processes were mimicking the
forces at work in nature.
7.16: Peter Donebauer, Diagram of live performance elements, 1978. Courtesy of the artist.
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One of the most signifcant aspects of video for Donebauer was its immediacy he
saw a direct analogy between performing with a musical instrument and his working
process with live video in the TV studio. Donebauer developed a method of
producing a real-time continuous recording that was the record or documentation
of a collaborative performance. Te videotapes produced by this method were selected
from the best takes using this process.
In 1974 Donebauer was commissioned by BBC television to produce a videotape
for broadcast on Second House, an arts magazine programme.
Because the BBC had
no portable video recording equipment at the time, the work was transmitted via an
outside broadcast microwave link from the TV studio at the RCA. Tis experience
of the fexibility and ephemerality of video had a deep efect on Donebauers sense of
the medium and on the subsequent development of his work:
Putting the signal down a wire somehow seems logical, but having it disem-
bodied before it was recorded and then transmitting it back and forth across
eight million people profoundly afected my sense of the medium it made me
realize that the signal was everything. Te signal is completely ethereal it has no
7.17: Peter Donebauer during BBC Transmission, 1974. Courtesy of the artist.
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substance . Te fact that its transmittable is a very peculiar aspect. Getting and
staying closer to that sense of magic and wonder was very important.
Tis experience of the video signal as paramount led directly to the development of
Donebauers own video-processing instrument, as mentioned above. After leaving the
RCA, and with only occasional funding, Donebauer found it difcult to continue
working in the way he had become accustomed to.
His solution was the devel-
opment of a video image-processing tool, analogous to a sound mixer, but to be used
live like a musical instrument.
Te Videokalos Image Processor, designed during 1975 in collaboration with
Richard Monkhouse was intended as a live performance instrument, providing even
better real-time control than the TV studio. According to Donebauer it had more
precise colour mixing and allowed greater control of video feedback images because
the entire unit was self-contained. In the RCA television studio for example, the
vision-mixing console had been in a separate room from the engineering control area
where he worked, requiring an additional operator. With the Videokalos, Donebauer
was able to control the entire process himself.
7.18: Prototype Videokalos interior, 1976. Courtesy of the artist.
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Although the Videokalos IMP did not redefne his work, it did enable
Donebauer to produce new video work in other locations. Te main intention in
building the Videokalos was to gain the same level of control as he had had in the
studio, but with simpler means. Donebauer also hoped it would bring him into
closer contact with the medium: I felt that getting involved with the integrated
circuits, chips and transistors and all the rest of it, would get me closer to the
heart of the medium.
Although most of the videotapes Donebauer produced in the period between
1973 and 1983 were performed live, they were performed largely for tape. Te
frst complete videotape to make use of the Videokalos IMP was Merging-Emerging
(1978). Recorded in real time, with no subsequent editing, Merging-Emerging was
produced using a procedure in which all the participants Donebauer, two dancers,
and two musicians (fute and violin), had visual and aural feedback which enabled
them to modify and adapt their contributions during the recording session (see
Chapter 10 for a more detailed discussion of this work). In 1979 Donebauer and
Desorgher formed VAMP to present their collaborative work to live audiences,
7.19: Peter Donebauer and Richard Monkhouse, VAMP Performance, 1977. Courtesy of the artist.
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touring venues across the UK, the frst and only time this was attempted.

Donebauer did not do many:
Im not really a good performer Im not extrovert enough. All my work was
performed, but largely for tape. Tat may have been a mistake in retrospect. If
Id been more outgoing I might have tried to do more live work. But the fnances
were dreadful . It was terribly difcult.
Although VAMPs tour was a unique event, the live aspect was central to Donebauers
philosophy. His videotapes are all derived from a live performance the fnal
released version being the best take of a studio recording session. For Donebauer
this liveness was a key part of the aesthetic, drawn both from the infuence of Zen
painting and from early television broadcasting. Donebauers approach to video
was also highly infuenced by his perception of music as an abstract language, and
his notion that live video produced by an interaction between performers could be
perceived in a similar way:
Te condition of music is that it is the live production of organized sounds that
extend in time and afect our inner selves without the necessity of mediation
through verbal or conceptual structures.
Te condition of video is that it is the live production of organized images
that extend in time and afect our inner selves without the necessity of mediation
through verbal or conceptual structures.
As one plays a musical instrument the result is an immediate feedback through
the ear of what the body and the mind has created.
As one plays a video instrument the result is an immediate feedback through
the eye of what the body and the mind has created.
Video is the visual equivalent of music.
By combining his ideas about the parallels between music and video, his interests in
Zen calligraphy and gestural painting and the immediacy and fuidity of the video
signal, Donebauer saw a potential for the medium, based on its inherent properties,
which challenged the more formal conceptual defnitions of his contemporaries.
Donebauers ideas were frmly tied into the technical possibilities, but in contrast
with more constraining defnitions, they embraced the transcendent potential of
video in a way that echoes the enthusiasm of Gene Youngblood in Expanded Cinema.
Donebauer wrote in 1976:
Video as a medium is unparalleled by any other in its ability to allow immediate
visual and aural experience extend in time and be recorded . Video however
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is undefned. As electronic technology pushes back frontier after frontier in
terms of size and processing techniques so does video expand its possibilities.
In a contemporary world where many aspects of our external environment are
appearing to be fnite, the interaction of human consciousness with electronic
possibilities seems to be without limit.
Donebauers attitude to video is informed by working directly with the medium
in a live and interactive way. Tis attitude is embodied in the Videokalos IMP, and
was crucial to both the development of the instrument and to the subsequent devel-
opment of Donebauers video work.
Whilst the development of the Videokalos did not result in specifcally new
technology, its unique confguration refected Donebauers approach to live video
performances and the needs and requirements to facilitate their production. Te
instruments design ofered a high degree of fexibility for the synthesis and manipu-
lation of colour video imagery. When working with the Videokalos it was possible to
work with up to fve independent video inputs, each of which enabled the colouri-
zation of monochrome camera sources or the manipulation of the level and gain
of component (Red, Green and Blue) colour sources. Tere were also three further
inputs to a wipe generator (for vertical and horizontal, curved and circular wipes) a
7.20: The Videokalos Image Processor, production version, 19778. Courtesy of Peter Donebauer.
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keying panel, as well as an eight-input switcher/mixer. Drawing on its EMS heritage
the machine had a 22x22 hole pin board that was used in conjunction with the three
key channels, each selectable as a triggering source from any of the monochrome or
RGB outputs. It was possible to produce very complex key efects with up to four
levels of colourization within a single video image. It was also possible to combine
positive and negative colour mixtures within each key level.
Although he was not initially aware of the work of American pioneers such as Beck,
Seigel or Sandin, Donebauers work both as an artist and as an electronics designer
has much in common with his US contemporaries. His interest in the live aspects
of video technology, the infuences of music and electronic sound synthesizers on the
development of his video work and the Videokalos IMP are comparable. Between
1974 and 1980 Donebauer produced a number of innovative abstract video tapes
fnanced by the Arts Council of Great Britain: Entering (1974), Struggling (1974);
and the British Film Institute: Circling (1975) Teaming (1975) and Dawn Creation
(1976). In 19812 he produced Te Water Cycle, an ambitious 50-minute work in
seven sections for Torn EMI, to be distributed on the VHD videodisc system, which
due to a corporate decision, was never issued. He has on several occasions produced
new works, most signifcantly Mandala, released in 1991.
As with his US counterparts, Stephen Beck and Eric Seigel, Donebauer has for
a number of years turned his creative abilities to more commercial work, as owner
and chief executive director of Diverse Production Ltd, a London-based media
production group. He has recently however made a decision to return to his career as
an artist, developing a range of new durational landscape video works for large screen
Te key artists discussed in this section: Nam June Paik, David Hall, Stephen Beck,
the Vasulkas, Robert Cahen, Ed Emshwiller and Peter Donebauer have all established
their practice in relation to the specifcs of developing video-imaging technology. As
Gene Youngblood has pointed out, there is a crucial relationship between the devel-
opment of new technological systems and the language inherent in them: Our task
is to discover it, identify it, draw it out and name it. He points out that Vasulka has
built his machines in order to discover the language in them. Youngblood also cites
Peter Weibel in pointing out that human vision has always been machine assisted.
By outlining some of the most signifcant events in the development of the video
medium from the perspective of fne art, I have attempted to identify how inextricably
video art and video-imaging technology are intertwined. Early video artists explored
and investigated the unique properties of the new medium; instant playback, live
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monitoring, feedback, continuous real-time recording, simultaneous sound and
picture, image degradation, repetition, image distortion, colour synthesis etc., not
simply as ends in themselves, but because of the ideas and cultural meanings that
were imbedded in them. Creative explorations and applications of these and other
techniques have inspired artists to create works which are both a testament to the
developing technology and a refection of the concerns of the times and culture they
are part of. All of the video artists I have discussed have drawn on their experience and
knowledge of working with video technology for inspiration and creative exploration,
developing a vocabulary for an evolving visual language, and opening up the territory
for future developments.
American flmmaker Hollis Frampton (193684, USA) once said that video art
emerged out of the Jovian backside of TV,
and clearly the earliest video art refer-
enced broadcast television, both in terms of its technological pedigree and its social
function. But artists working with video quickly sought to create their own context,
simultaneously seeking to free art from its institutional and ideological straightjacket,
and to stake claim to new formal territory. Video art quickly developed a number of
sub-genres: single-screen video tapes, video sculpture/installation, abstract synthe-
sized video, performance documentation, guerrilla TV, agit-prop, community
action, etc., all of which are at least partly a manifestation of a particular and specifc
response to forms of available technological confgurations.
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Tis section of the book discusses and examines a number of specifc representative
works by a range of signifcant artists under four main headings, acknowledging and
highlighting the impact of the most signifcant technological developments that have
been identifed in the frst section of the book. Specifc video artworks are discussed
under the following four categories: Non-broadcast portable video; Frame-accurate
editing; Electronic/digital image manipulation techniques and Video display formats
for installation. Te video works in each chapter have been chosen as examples
only, as there are a great number of important and signifcant works that have been
produced in the period under consideration by other artists in numerous countries.
It is also important to point out that the artists discussed within individual chapters
did not work exclusively with one particular approach or mode. So for example,
Joan Jonas and Steven Partridge produced works that were tightly edited, Gary Hill
and Judith Goddard made single-screen tapes, and Dara Birnbaum and Wojciech
Bruszewski have made installations. Tese four chapters serve only to provide some
specifc examples of the ways in which artists responded to the techniques and
methods that became available to them at the time, and to show how these forms were
explored and gave rise to a decoding of the meanings and creative potential inherent
in the developing technology at the time of their production.
Across the period under discussion there was a shift away from the modernist
preoccupations of early video (during which many video artists were involved with
an investigation into the inherent properties of video such as nature of the recording
process and its components of lines, felds and frames, the camera and its functions
and operations, and the television box and its viewing condition), towards broader
issues and concerns about the nature or representation and the social/political
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implications of the media. Tis shift can be seen in the work made by the artists
in this section, from the materialist concerns in works such as Monitor by Steve
Partridge, Te Video Touch by Wojciech Bruszewski, David Halls Tis is a Television
Monitor, or Michael Snows De La, through to works that are clearly addressing issue-
based and socio-political concerns such as Serra and Schoolmans Television Delivers
People, Birnbaums Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, the Duvet Brothers
Blue Monday or Dan Reeves Obsessive Becoming. Some of the video works examined
seem to occupy a special territory not purely formal but celebrating the fuid new
potential of video as an art medium, presenting both a subjective viewpoint and
challenging the established approach of broadcast television. Works such as Vertical
Roll by Joan Jonas; Robert Cahens Juste le Temps; Art of Memory by Woody Vasulka
With Child by Catherine Elwes and Bill Violas Te Refecting Pool are both lyrical
and personal, but through their poetic exploration of the technological form and
their innovative manipulation and deconstruction of narrative conventions, draw on
the legacy of the materialist period and share a postmodern concern for the issues of
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By the early 1970s, attracted by instant playback and recording of image and sound
and the potential of re-recording and erasure as a creative process, artists had begun
to explore the possibilities and potential of the Portapak, a battery-operated portable
video recorder and camera ensemble. Tis equipment was relatively inexpensive
(approx US$2,000) and very simple to operate.
Its portability and ease of operation
made it ideal for use by an individual operator, and artists could work with it on
their own in the privacy of their own studios no technical crew or expensive and
cumbersome lighting required. Te black-and-white camera which was connected to
the recorder by a thick umbilical cord, was capable of producing images in relatively
low-light levels, and since it had a built-in microphone and automatic sound level
control (although there was no manual override) basic synchronized sound recordings
were the norm. Te recorder used 30-minute open reel -inch tapes, and although
the camera was equipped with a pause control the cut between scenes was crude
and often caused unstable edits between shots or sequences. Artists tapes from this
period were subsequently most often continuous unedited recordings, the documen-
tation of performances or presentations made live to camera with a simple ambient
soundtrack often the human voice. Te quality of the image recordings was grainy,
low-resolution (and often low-contrast) and with a distinct high pitched whine of
the automatic volume control (AVC) mechanism on the soundtrack. Simple editing
could be accomplished by copying selected portions of the tape using a second
video recorder, but the picture edits were fairly inaccurate and often unstable, and
since the position of the soundtrack recording was displaced from that of the image
track, accurate sound and picture edits were impossible to achieve using this level of
Te confguration of the Portapak also made it possible to connect the unit directly
to a black-and-white video monitor (or by using the built-in RF converter, to a
domestic TV receiver), which enabled the sound and picture to be monitored live,
as well as facilitating instant playback of the recording. Tis closed-circuit aspect was
also particularly attractive to artists, and was the basis of numerous installations as
well as providing the possibility of so-called video feedback, achieved when a live
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video camera is pointed at a monitor displaying the camera image. Tis phenomenon
was explored and developed by artists of this period who were especially interested in
non-representational imagery (see Chapter 7). Re-recording of the video image was
also a technique much exploited by artists working with early non-broadcast video.
Tapes such as Joan Jonas Vertical Roll and Steve Partridges Monitor are examples of
this technique. David Halls Tis is a Video Monitor was accomplished by making a
series of re-recordings, each one a generation further from the original.
For the most part, this work was produced outside the broadcast television context
technically of low quality, the recordings were deemed by those in the industry
to be unft for broadcasting. As we have seen, many of these videotapes (and other
comparable works) were deliberately critical of the broadcast industry, on ideological,
political and/or aesthetic grounds, and in many countries artists video often delib-
erately took up a position critical of broadcast television and sought alternative
strategies for production and distribution.
In Monitor Steve Partridge used the instant playback and live monitoring capability
of the Portapak to explore the relationship between the video image and the monitor
as object, in an elegant and deceptively simple video tape. In the mid-1970s the artist
identifes the key strengths of the Portapak as an artists tool and describes his early
preoccupations with the medium:
Everything about the nature of half-inch video seems to make it ideally suited
to individuality and creativity. Artists are able to use video equipment either
completely alone or in small groups. No specialized professional skills are needed
to operate the equipment, and tape costs far less than flm. All of this seems to
make video a truly human-sized medium.
My own videotape work has been largely concerned with an exploration of
the video process per se Monitor is a careful reorganization of time scales and
images of a revolving monitor producing a disorientating illusion.
In Monitor a close-up image of a small monochrome video monitor is framed
centrally and displayed on an identical monitor that has been placed onto the edge
of a tabletop. Te image is visually composed so that the edge of the table passes
diagonally through the video frame, and the identical composition is then repeated
within the monitor in what initially appears to be a feedback arrangement, in
which it is possible to discern that the same image of this video monitor is repeated
in diminishing size fve times, one frame inside the other. (Tis arrangement also
implies that the series of images extends to infnity.) Tis composition is held static
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for approximately 30 seconds after which a (right) hand appears inside the frame of
the frst monitor and is placed on top of the monitor casing. Tis action is echoed
immediately on the outside monitor image, with an identical hand copying the
action and coming to rest on the top of the monitor casing. Te (left) hand then
appears, bottom left, inside the screen and is followed by the mimicking of that action
on the outside monitor. Te hand slides along the lower edge of the monitor until
it reaches the bottom corner of the screen. Grasping the two opposing corners of the
screen, the monitor, turned slowly over onto its left side, is then adjusted to appear
centrally within the screen. Te hands on the inner monitors are then repositioned
to maintain their top and bottom corner confguration each subsequent action is
executed by the hands on the inner screens and then copied by the outer pair.
Basically each of the fve generations of recorded sequences (one recording was
made for each of the layers) of the routine was recorded separately and sequentially,
using the previous recording as a prompt. Te entire routine was frst recorded all
the way through once, and then played back on the monitor whilst the action was
re-recorded. Te resultant recording of each new generation was then re-recorded as
the action was restaged. Tis routine was repeated fve times, creating a recording of
the same action across fve generations.
Monitor is divided into two parts, each section of the tape featuring a diferent
physical movement of the monitor within televisual space; section one rotates the
monitor on the horizontal axis through 360 degrees, section two turns the monitor
through a vertical axis to show the outside of apparatus on either side of the picture
tube. Partridge uses this simple strategy to efectively imply the sculptural potential
of the video monitor.
8.1: Stephen Partridge, Monitor, 1975.
Courtesy of the artist.
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Although Partridge describes the work as one that provides a disorientating
illusion, I read the piece as being decidedly anti-illusionary, in that it presents the
display of the video monitor as the subject of the work. Te tape has been recorded
without sound, and the visual image shown is produced as a direct result of the
actions of the hands moving the monitor within the image display. In its making
and its functioning Monitor exploits and foregrounds inherent properties unique
to video instant playback and live monitoring. Tese facilities enabled Partridge
to both monitor the efect of his actions on the screen, and to present these actions
as the subject of image. Tis and similar works produced during this period (the
early to mid-1970s) occupy an important critical position relative to the dominant
forms of representation in television. As Stuart Marshall pointed out in From Art to
Independence, the early modernist practice of video artists in which the properties of
imaging technology were the major preoccupation, brought these artists into a direct
confrontation with issues of signifcation:
Videos attempt to produce a modernist practice therefore produced a second
unexpected consequence, the establishment of a critical relation to dominant
technology and its representational practices.
In Television Delivers People, Richard Serra (1939, USA) and Carlota Fay Schoolman
(1949, USA) use a stark televisual form to present a critical analysis of the political
and ideological function of American broadcast television. Using an electroni-
cally generated scrolling text (yellow lettering on a blue background) set to banal
interlude music, the tape presents a series of short texts which directly address
the viewer, confronting him/her with a revealing analysis of the socially controlling
functions of television broadcasting and so-called mass entertainment and news.
Te product of tele-
vision, commercial
television, is the
Television delivers
people to an
Tere is no such thing
as mass media in the
United States except
for television.
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Mass media means
that a medium can
deliver masses of
Commercial television
delivers 20 million
people a minute.
In commercial broad-
casting the viewer
pays for the privilege
of having himself sold.
It is the consumer
who is consumed.
You are the product
of TV.
You are delivered to
the advertiser who is
the customer.
He consumes you.
Te viewer is not
responsible for
You are the end
You are the end
product delivered
en masse to the
You are the product
of TV.
Tis directly confrontational strategy utilizing terse and hard-hitting phrases set to
a background of upbeat elevator music cuts across the divide between television
programme maker and audience presenting a political electronic manifesto which
spells out the relationship between the viewer and the medium of American broadcast
television in the 1970s.
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By refexively utilizing the medium he is criticizing, Serra taps into a strategy in
keeping with the counter-corporate tactics of early video collectives, a strategy
which remains integral to video artists committed to a critical dismantling of the
medias political and ideological stranglehold.
Tis work, which could technically have been broadcast (it was in fact cablecast
a number of times in New York state) makes efective use of very minimal video
technology. Te text and background were electronically generated, giving the tape a
spare low-budget appearance, as if it were an information bulletin, or a pre-programme
transmission on a community TV channel or cable network. Because of this minimal
look, the tape clearly originates from outside the broadcast TV environment,
therefore deconstructing not so much the form of television programming, but rather
broadcastings overall strategy.
Te tape goes further than simply critiquing broadcast television, extending its
scope to target the role of television networks and beyond to the large corporations
that control them and the political state they represent:
is dependent on
television for its
is dependent on
propaganda for its
Corporations that own
networks control
Te stark and minimal appearance of this work strips away any pretence of enter-
tainment or even news or documentary, opting for a direct appeal to the mind and
emotions of the viewer:
You pay the money
to allow someone else
to make the choice.
You are consumed.
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You are the product
of television.
Television delivers
Te work is efective not simply because of the message conveyed via the text, which
through coherent persuasive argument outlines the relationship between television
entertainment, news and information, the maintaining of the status quo and
corporate and political control, but because of the direct televisual power of its form.
Although this video tape was made especially for a BBC Arena: Art and Design television
programme about video art broadcast in 1976, it was a remake of Tis is a Video
Monitor (1974) originally intended for a non-broadcast context.
In Halls original
tape, a womans face and voice (television producer Anna Ridley) were the images and
sounds presented on the video monitor. Tis earlier version, shot in black-and-white on
a Portapak, presents an extreme close-up of a womans face, her long hair framing each
side of the screen. She speaks directly to the camera, pacing her monologue with a slow
and careful delivery. She appears to be miming the words, as they can also be heard of
camera occasionally, slightly ahead of her lip movements. Te words the woman speaks
describe in careful detail the nature of the image and sound being experienced with an
outline of the technical processes that are providing the message:
Tis is a video monitor, which is a box. Te shell is of wood, metal or plastic.
On one side, most likely the one you are looking at, there is a large rectangular
opening. Tis opening is flled with a curved glass surface which is emitting
light. Te light, passing through the curved glass surface, varies in intensity over
that surface, from dark to light and in a variety of shades of grey. Tese form
shapes, which often appear as images. In this case, the image of a woman. But it
is not a woman. Tere is also another opening, probably on the same side as the
curved glass surface, or adjacent to it, which is emitting this sound. Te sound is
produced by vibrations on the cone inside this other opening. Te sound is very
similar to a woman speaking, but it is not a womans voice. Because these sounds
are so similar to a woman speaking, and because the image of the womans lips
appears to be simultaneously forming the same words, the sounds are heard as
though coming from the image of the womans mouth, but they do not.
Te woman stops speaking, her image fades to black and a male voice (Halls?) shouts
cut. Te recording is stopped and there are several seconds of blank tape, with
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now or static appearing briefy on the screen. After this slight gap a new recording
begins and the image of the womans face reappears. Cropped slightly closer and
noticeably degraded, it is a copy of the frst, distinctly less well defned and with
increased contrast. A copy of the entire sequence is presented, with both image and
sound degraded.
Tis copying process is then repeated for a third time with predictable results; the
framing is closer still and the contrast is markedly harsher. Both the image and the
speech are still recognizable but only just.
By the fourth generation, the image has been completely abstracted, and is no
longer recognizable. Te sound is also signifcantly distorted, but is still, though very
metallic, understandable.
8.2: David Hall, This is a Television
Receiver, 1976. Courtesy of the artist.
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Te ffth and fnal pass renders the image into moving patches of light and shade;
the sound has degenerated into acoustic noise, though still recognizable as having
characteristically human speech patterns.
In the version made for BBC TV, Tis is a Television Receiver (1976), the woman
was replaced by the well-known newsreader Richard Baker, lending his presence and
authority to the work, and reinforcing the status of its broadcast television setting.
Tis power is further enhanced by the works placement within the Arena programme:
as the tape begins the broadcast programme unannounced, the entire Tis is a
Television Receiver speech (modifed slightly from the 1974 text in order to make it
suitable for a male image and voice), and the frst re-copied segment are presented
before the familiar and identifable Arena programme logo and signature tune was
Tis is a Television Receiver is a restaging of the earlier tape, and it does not have the
conceptual rigour of the original. Not only is the tape interrupted by Halls speech
to camera in the Arena broadcast, but also the video image is not permitted to break
down beyond recognition. Te original fve repeated sequences have been reduced to
four, and there are steps missing in the procedure, as the progressive deterioration was
clearly much more difcult to attain with broadcast video recorders. Te quality loss
of the image from one generation to the next was minimal, so Hall had to cheat in
order to replicate the efect of the original tape.
Halls interest in the broadcast context for video art has been discussed previously
(see Chapter 1), and the Arena broadcast gave him a unique opportunity to present
his ideas to a wider public. Despite the conceptual shortcomings discussed above,
Tis is a Television Receiver was an elegant and efective statement perhaps even
In some ways the work is more efective than Tis is a Television Monitor
precisely because it was on TV, and because of the participation of the broadcast TV
presenter Richard Baker. Te choice of Baker for the presentation was inspired, as at
the time of broadcast, Baker was the quintessential presenter professional, authori-
tative, trusted.
As is clear from his Arena statement, Halls broadcast aspirations for video art were
in many ways centred on the issue of venue. For Hall, contemporary art required a
contemporary medium and this included a careful consideration of the relationship
of that medium to the venue. For Hall, the gallery was too prescribed, whereas the
medium of television ofered both a new venue and a potential new audience:
[Te art gallery] was very much kind of closeted. It was annexed it had less and
less social relevance in many respects. Tings like radio and cinema, and latterly
television were really the things that people looked at . I thought that on
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the whole art had very little social signifcance and was really kept in its sort of
annex. It was just for the initiated. I wanted to try and push outside of that, and
it seemed to me that using flm. i.e. like cinema, and using video, like television,
or better still on television, seemed to me to be a much more appropriate place
to be as an artist.
Joan Jonas (1936, USA) began making live performances in 1968, previously
working as a fgurative sculptor, until studying dance with choreographer Trisha
Brown (1936, USA) in New York City. Jonas began working with a Sony Portapak
after a visit to Japan in 1970 and began using the video equipment as an integral
part of her dance performances. In parallel with her public performance work
Jonas experimented with video, making more intimate works such as Duet and
Left Side, Right Side (both 1972) which explored the relationship between personal
and image space. In her subsequent video work Jonas became interested in dealing
with ritual, making use of costumes and masks from other cultures including the
Minoans, the Hopi Indians and Japanese Noh Teatre, as well as drawing from
magic shows and early cinema. Extending her practice of using mirrors in her live
performance, video enabled Jonas to explore a further level of refection, relating
this experience to her audience via live closed-circuit transmission, presenting the
video monitor as an on-going mirror.
Space was always a primary concern, and in considering the space of the monitor
I then dealt with its boxlike structure, positioning it in relation to myself. I tried
to climb into the box, attempting to turn the illusion of fatness to one of depth.
Te focus was of myself.
Translating a notion of electronic sound delay she had previously used in her outdoor
performances, Jonas adopted the maladjusted vertical roll control of the video
monitor as a method of de-synchronization in her own terms an out of synch
Vertical Roll begins with a silent rolling image of a blank video screen. Te fnal
tape is a recording of a performance made in front of a video monitor which is
displaying the recording of a previous performance on a maladjusted monitor on the
foor of Jonas studio. At the beginning of the sequence Jonas face appears in front of
the monitor from the top of the screen. She picks up a spoon and begins to hit the
glass of the screen in synch with the rolling of the image, giving the image an insistent
rhythmic physicality. Te camera gradually zooms into the screen, defocusing the
image until it appears blank. Te sound of the spoon then changes to a more distant
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beat (now being made with a block of wood) but still to the same driving rhythm,
and without missing a beat. Te image of a black-and-white patterned cloth appears,
moving and shifting across the frame of the screen. Te movement is clearly human,
and is eventually identifable as the performer herself, who then enters the frame
wearing a mask, her face appearing upside down, as the camera has now been turned
over. Jonas rotates her position again: now with her feet close to the camera, she
appears to be walking on air with the camera below her looking up. Te image
fades to a blank screen and a still photograph of a naked woman appears, initially
slightly out of focus and eventually losing focus altogether. Te legs of a female fgure
approach, marching in time to the vertical roll and its insistent beat, jumping up and
down both with and against the beat, as if jumping over the edge of the frame. Jonas
then drops to the foor, tapping the foor and placing her hands in positions to create
the illusion that she is clapping to the rhythm of the roll. After another slow defocus,
Jonas enters the frame from the right, rotating her body slowly as the image of her
torso (clad in a two-piece jewelled costume) moves through the frame. Te camera
pans way from her body (or she moves out of frame) to her shadow on the wall, her
outstretched hand holding the spoon. Te fgure moves out of shot to the left and
Jonas face appears close up in front of the video monitor, as she slowly looks towards
the camera, flling the frame momentarily before leaving the frame from the bottom
of the picture. Te image cuts to black.
Jonas made Vertical Roll in 1972, using the tape as part of a live performance
entitled Organic Honeys Vertical Roll the following year. Concerned with the presen-
tation of an altered perception of physical space in the room beyond the video
monitor, Jonas presented Organic Honey as a kind of alter ego who evolved from her
involvement with the video image especially the live video image from the closed-
circuit television system that was an integral component of her live performance
pieces. Around the time of making Vertical Roll, Jonas described her intentions with
the work, identifying its relationship to an exploration of video space, movement and
the body:
Im developing many diferent identities and states of being translated into
images appearing on my monitor. In performances, the audience sees the simul-
taneous discrepancies between live activity and video images. Te monitor is an
on-going mirror, but it does not reverse left and right. Te vertical roll of the
monitor was used in my work as a structural device with which activities were
performed in and out of synch with its rhythm. I play with the peculiar qualities
of the TV, imagistically and structurally. Te vertical roll seems to be a series
of frames in a flm, going by slowly, obscuring and distorting the movement.
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Portions of the movement are lost as the mind passes or jumps the monitor. Te
vertical roll afects ones perception of the TV image and of the space around the
monitor. Floors seem to rise when you look away from the continuous vertical
roll. I would like to do a horizontal roll. Vertical Roll was taped of the monitor.
Refections from the room were on the surface of the monitor.
SECONDS , 5/77, 1 MI NUTE, 20 SECONDS; 1/76, 3 MI NUTES , 40 SECONDS; 8/77, 3 MI NUTES , 16 SECONDS)
Working with both flm and video in the 1970s and infuenced by ideas and theories
developed through Structural flm, particularly the Structural-Materialist flms and
theories developed in the UK (see Chapter 4), Wojciech Bruszewski (19472009,
Poland) produced a series of short experimental works exploring the implications of
flm and video recording on the nature of reality and human perception.
In Te Video Touch, a compilation of short video experiments, Bruszewski includes
a number of voice-overs that have been edited onto the soundtrack to accompany the
visuals. Tese texts provide a context for the works and present the visuals as a series
of propositions that address human perceptual preconceptions.
All my works are concerned with elementary situations. An analysis of these
situations allows me to discover mind structures still functioning but useless.
Te tape begins with the image of a centrally placed video monitor displaying
the back of a loudspeaker that is suspended from above by its cables. Behind the
8.3: Wojciech Bruszewski,
The Video Touch, 1976.
Courtesy of the artist.
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8.4: Wojciech Bruszewski,
The Video Touch, 1977.
Courtesy of the artist.
loudspeaker, there is an image of the rear view of the video monitor, so that we are
able to simultaneously see both the font and back of the display apparatus. Tere is a
continuous buzzing sound from the speaker, produced by acoustic feedback. A fgure
(the artist or his assistant?) enters from the right of frame, and crouching beside the
monitor, reaches for the loudspeaker, the live video image of his hand appearing on
the screen as it disappears behind the monitor. Grasping the speaker, he sets it in
motion, causing it to swing to and fro in an arc so that it becomes visible beyond the
screen and as an image (seen from the front) when it swings behind the monitor. Te
speaker swings back and forth like a pendulum, making a repeated transition from
image to object and from front to back. As it swings, the feedback sounds change
pitch as it passes through the image on the screen and appears as an object outside
the boundaries of the screen. Te speaker/ pendulum is made to swing physically and
spatially, alternating between front and back, between image and object, it seems to
be able to occupy alternate electronic and conceptual spaces.
A domestic water tap protruding from a tiled wall is shown in medium close-up. Te
artists hand enters the frame from the right (from behind the camera?) As he opens
the tap, the water is seen to fow upwards in a curve from the spout of the tap. Te
ambient sound is of the water trickling from the tap. Te hand re-enters the frame
and closes the tap. Visual cues suggest conventional readings that are easily disrupted
with simple camera framing and compositional devices.
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A large video monitor in the centre of the screen is displaying the image of an identical
monitor, and another inside that, in a live feedback arrangement. Te monitor screens
show a blank neutral grey feld, and the sound track is ambient. A hand grasping a
short wooden baton (810 inches long) enters the frame from the left, and places the
baton in front of the monitor within the left-hand portion of the screen. Tis image
is twice repeated within the frame of the monitor on a successively smaller scale, one
image inside the other. Tis image is held for approximately 10 seconds.
Te picture within the second monitor is then electronically reversed, so that the
baton now appears to be placed in the exact opposite position to the frst generation
image. Te hand again enters the frame and removes the baton. Tere is the sound
of a switch being made, and there is momentary change to the light levels on the
screens. Tis sequence of events is repeated three times, each time the baton is placed
in a diferent position in front of the monitor, so that when the second image is
reversed the successive multiple images form a pattern of alternating realities. In the
fnal sequence, the baton is leaned against the glass surface of the monitor screen. Te
near-simultaneous electronic transmission of video imagery has created anomalies in
our notions of spatial perception.
In the compilation version of Te Video Touch (1977) a voice-over then reads a text:
Tere exists now a need to gather the experiences with the use of mechanical and
electronic media according to some actual and comprehensive theory of seeing.
Tis piece is prefaced by a voice-over that identifes the artists interest in the
relationship between sound and image, particularly how perceptions of one can be
infuenced or afected by changes to the other.
Te attachment to audio-visual perceptions of the world imprints a strange
mechanism in our consciousness. Disturbances in one of these two channels
changes our attitude towards phenomena which in reality is totally diferent.
Te close-up image of a stopwatch appears on the screen. Immediately beneath it in
plain black lettering are the words Time Structures. A hand enters the frame, starts
the watch counting and centres the object within the frame. Te sweep hand of the
stopwatch counts the seconds in real time, but on the soundtrack the ticking has been
accelerated and then is gradually slowed to normal speed, only to gather speed again.
Te stopwatch runs continuously for approximately three minutes during which time
the sound alternately speeds up and slows down.
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In these and other video works such as Input/Output (1977) and Outside
(1975) Bruszewski sought to explore the anomalies that the medium exposed, and
suggested that new theories of human perception were required in the light of
developments of electronic moving image recording and transmission. His works of
this period were simultaneously analytic and poetic, austere and didactic, humorous
and refective.
What I do is nothing else than setting traps for what exists. I try to set the traps
on the borderline of the spiritual and the material of what we know and
think of and what there is.
Tis procedure systematically follows results in the destruction of the
convention of what exists, at the same time the mechanical and electronic means
of transmission, as the channel which is clear and unlimited by mental schemes
acts as the catalyst for the reaction whilst the hypothetical what exists? in the
frst meaning outside of the potential energy of destruction.
Although Leticia Parente (1930, Salvador 1991, Rio de Janerio) is best known for
her video work, the medium was one of many she explored. Marca Registrada was
made whilst Parente was a member of a pioneering group of Brazilian artists led by
Anna Bella Geiger, which included Sonia Andrade, Fernando Cocchiarale and Paulo
Herkenhof, who produced a number of infuential early works in video, exhibited
both in Brazil and beyond.
Te video work of this group had a number of signifcant common characteristics
they present or perform simple actions in domestic spaces, there is no dialogue and
they are continuous, unedited sequences performed in a single take. (Tey have this
aspect in common with works by artists in many countries who began working with
the new medium in the early period, as noted elsewhere in this book.)
In Marca Registrada, Parente initially presents us with the image of a womans bare
feet and lower legs. As the tape progresses the woman is shown walking slowly from
right to left across a plain tiled foor to sit down left of frame. (Tere is no discernable
audio, instead the soundtrack is of static or audio noise.) Te camera pans-up and
zooms in as the womans hands enter the frame and we are presented with a close-up
of her hands holding a needle and thread. After several attempts in real time, the
needle is threaded and the camera pans away to refocus on a close-up on the upturned
sole of her left foot. Slowly and carefully the woman begins to work on her foot, using
the thread to form written letters onto the sole of her own foot. Eventually we are
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8.5: Leticia Parente, Marca Registrada (Trademark), 1975. Courtesy of Andr Parente.
8.6: Leticia Parente, Marca Registrada (Trademark), 1975. Courtesy of Andr Parente.
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able to see that she has sewn the words Made in Brasil onto the sole of her foot. As
soon as she has fnished, she snips the end of the thread with a small pair of scissors,
stands up and moves out of frame. Te tape ends.
According to her son Andre this gesture was inspired by a game played by children
in the northeast region of Brazil, and is related to a theme which links to a number
of her video works, for example, In (1975) and Tarefa 1 (Task 1) (1982) which centre
on themes related to the reifcation of the individual, the oppressiveness and repeti-
tiveness of daily household chores and the plight and position of women in Brazilian
For Parente, video provided the means to confront tactile and visceral bodily
experiences at a profound level and to combine them with an experience of the
immediate surrounding environment. In relation to this aspiration, video provided
an experience of time that was enlarged in a way that was comparable to the ability
of photography to enlarge the detail of an image: Te technology maximises to the
fullest possible extent through all access paths and all voices that provide the ability
to penetrate the occurrence.
With the continuous recorded action and gesture in Marca Registrada, Parente
sought to focus on the plight and position of the individual, her belonging. Te
action of sewing these words (in English) onto her foot was a statement about
the individuals complex and contradictory relationship her native country: Te
trademark may resemble the branding iron but it is also the basis for the structure
over which an individual will always be constituted in his/her historicity: when
standing on the sole of the foot.
In this and many of Parentes video works of the period, the deliberate objec-
tifcation of her body standing in for any woman because of the way in which
she frames and records her performed activities functions on multiple levels: as a
critique of the objectifcation in visual art of the female body; as a critical response
to the Brazilian Governments covert desire to create an ideal or model citizen; and
on the notion of the individual as a passive consumer of American-made products.

According to Elena Shtromberg, this strategy also enabled Parente to avoid the
potential censorship of her work:
Using the body as the site for text, and ultimately as the inscribed locus for a
critique of the dictatorship, is an expert manoeuvre given censorship restrictions
on explicit textual critique in Brazil. Trough the subversion of an everyday
activity associated with women, Parentes work activates the bodys polysemic
condition as a site for political, social and gender critique.
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Te early Portapak, taken up by many artists because of its ease of operation, compact
portability, its combined sound and image and because it could be used by a single
operator in the privacy of his/her own domestic or studio space, was often initially used
to document live performances or body art (see Chapter 12). Because the particular
confguration of the early portable video format (-inch open reel) made editing
difcult and inaccurate, many artists worked in real time, or developed ingenious
solutions to circumvent this problem, rescanning or re-recording sequences to
create more fuid and less fragmented videotapes. Examining and re-examining the
video image and the new televisual space also suited the more conceptual and philo-
sophical refections on the nature of language and the complex relationships between
representation and meaning that were characteristic of conceptual and minimal art of
the period. Te ephemeral nature of the television image and video tape recordings
also suited artists who wanted to challenge and critique an increasingly commodifed
art market. Feminist and other marginalized artists and groups were attracted to
the new medium because of its lack of historical precedence and as yet unrealized
potential for directly addressing alternative audiences.
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George Barber, Tilt, 1984, Courtesy of the artist.
Steven Beck, Illuminated Music, 19723. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EIA), New
York. http://www.eia.org
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Guy Ben-Ner, Wild Boy, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.
Vince Brifa, Playing God, 2008. Courtesy of the artist.
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Robert Cahen, Juste le Temps, 1983. Courtesy of the artist.
Peter Campus, Passage at Bellport Harbor, 2010 and Fishing Boats at Shinnecock Bay, 2010.
Courtesy of the artist.
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Peter Donebauer, Merging-Emerging, 1978. Courtesy of the artist.
Duvet Brothers, Blue Monday, 1984, Courtesy of the artist.
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Terry Flaxton, In Re Ansel Adams, 2008. Courtesy of the artist. Clive Gilllman, NLV1, 1990. Courtesy of the artist.
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Judith Goddard, Television Circle, 1987. Courtesy of the artist
David Hall, A Situation Envisaged, the Rite 2, 198890. Courtesy of
the artist.
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Steve Hawley, Trout Descending a Staircase, 1990. Courtesy of the artist.
Stephen Jones, Stonehenge, 1978. Courtesy of the artist.
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Malcolm le Grice, Even Cyclops Pays the Ferryman, 1998. Courtesy of the artist.
Mary Lucier, Four Mandalas, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.
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Churchill Madikida, Virus, 2005. Courtesy of the artist.
Chris Meigh-Andrews, For William Henry Fox Talbot (the Pencil of Nature), 2002. Courtesy of the artist.
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Chris Meigh-Andrews, Sunbeam, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
Richard Monkhouse, Images produced by the EMS Spectron,
1977. Courtesy of the artist.
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Tony Oursler, Escort, 1997. Courtesy of the artist and the Lisson Gallery, London.
Nam June Paik, Zen for TV, 1961. Courtesy of Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH
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Jacques Perconte, Impressions-Innite, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.
Peter Callas, Nights High Noon, 1988. Courtesy of the artist.
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Dan Reeves, Obsessive Becoming, 1995. Courtesy of the artist.
Dan Sandin: Live performance at Electronic Visualization Event 3, 1978. Courtesy of the artist.
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Eric Siegel, Einstine, 1968. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EIA), New York, http://www.eia.org
Steina, Summer Salt, 1982, Courtesy of the artist.
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Studio Azzurro, Il Natatore, 1984. Courtesy of the artist. Takahiko Iimura, Interactive AIUEONN, installation at Harris Museum
& Art Gallery, Preston for Digital Aesthetic 2012. Courtesy of the
artist. Photograph Simon Critchley.
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Woody Vasulka, Art of Memory, 1987. Courtesy of the artist.
Marty St James and Anne Wilson, The Swimmer, Duncan Goodhew, 1990. Courtesy of the artists.
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In the mid- to late 1970s, accurate video editing of low-gauge formats had become
accessible to many artists. Initially a number of custom-made -inch editing systems
had been designed, for example the editometre system in use at the National Film
Board of Canada in Montreal, which was adapted and widely copied by other
community and artists workshops including the Fantasy Factory in London and
other countries such as Australia (see Chapter 1). Tis system made it possible to
accurately cut both sound and picture simultaneously by synchronizing two -inch
mains machines (for example, the Sony AV 3670). In the UK Richard Monkhouse
had designed Trigger Happy for John Hopkins and Sue Hall, as an interface between
a Sony Portapak and an AV 3670, and other similar custom-made solutions were in
use in many countries. Soon after this Sony introduced the U-matic tape format (see
Glossary) with editing machines such as the VO2850 and VO 2860 with dedicated
automatic editing controllers (RM 400 and RM 440) which provided artists and
other independent users to make nearly frame-accurate (3 frames) edits of image
and sound, and to cut picture and sound independently, a feature that, with the old
-inch format, was nearly impossible and very haphazard. Tis accessible, accurate
image and sound editing had a major impact on the work of many artists. Although
some artists had previously been given access to sophisticated video editing systems
in television broadcast facilities and workshops, the new accessible video editing
systems provided by the U-matic format had an impact on existing video artists who
had been using video and attracted a new generation to the potential of video as
an art form. By the early 1980s many artists were accessing multi-machine editing
systems with post-production efects, which enabled the mixing of images in addition
to the simple cut. Te works discussed below all highlight the power of sound and
picture montage, and contrast with the real-time approach of video made by artists
discussed in the previous chapter.
Part of a series of short related works grouped under the collective title Numb Bares
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1 (1976), which includes 1. Behind Bars; 2. Between cameras A; 3. Pan from left
to right; 4. Matilda, of camera; 5. Numb Bares A; 6. Breasts +2; 7. Cut to black; 8.
Legs-Running; 9. Between cameras B; 10. Mary had a little lamb; 11. Numb bares B; 12.
Meanwhile at Home; 13. Between cameras C; Keeping Marlene out of the Picture; 15.
Erasure; 16. Sto/ol; 17. Dialogue; 18. Ha-ha; 19. Te End; and 20. Credit.
Eric Cameron (1935, UK), trained as a painter and art historian, and began
working with video in 1972, drawing on the approach to process painting he had
developed over the previous decade:
I attempted to devise a similar way of working that would allow me to manip-
ulate the equipment of the video medium in ways that would generate sounds
and images I had neither perceived nor anticipated in advance of viewing the
resulting tape.
Increasingly interested in Conceptual Art and the debates and theoretical ideas that
were developing around it, Cameron had abandoned painting, convinced that to
continue with it would only lead him to endless repetition.
Tis interest in concep-
tualism and its discourse, combined with a fascination for a Duchampian attitude
to the human body, sexuality and intimacy, led him to begin his video experiments
by working with Sue Sterling, a life-drawing model at the University of Guelph.
(An approach that he later noted might be construed as both conservative and self-
consciously reactionary.
) Working with a Portapak, Cameron made a recording
whilst moving the camera over the models naked body with the lens in close contact.
Juxtaposing this against a second tape, a video recording of a close-up slow pan
around the walls of his daughters bedroom led to the development of an idea for
a two-channel installation one monitor representing the fgure, the second, the
ground. Tese two tapes Sue and Bedroom opened the way to the formulation
of ideas for a number of procedurally less complex works exploring the potential of
video as a medium for art, described in Camerons 1972 essay Notes for Video Art
(Expurgated). Te essay outlines a number of projects and ideas for an approach
to video that is both highly conceptual and ironically humorous. Among the ideas
Cameron describes are throwing a video camera, still attached to the recorder via its
(specially extended) umbilical cable from the observation platform of the Empire
State Building in New York, the transformation of the camera into the model of a
dog which is then taken for a series of walks, and inserting a camera equipped with
a wide-angle lens into his own mouth repeatedly for the duration of the tape.
Tese and other projects outlined in the essay were all concerned at an important
level with a particular notion of video time which contrasted with the spectators
experience of time in more conventional art forms such as painting. In his essay
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Cameron prescribed a set of rules and operations which included an insistence on a
strict one-to-one correspondence between the duration of the recorded action and its
playback, a requirement that the lens was not to be refocused during the recording
session, and that the resultant works were to be displayed in an art gallery to allow
the spectator freedom of movement and choice. Te works outlined were also, most
signifcantly, to contain no editing.
Subsequently however, Cameron developed notions about the editing process
that suggested a procedural approach for the development of a new work Keeping
Marlene Out of the Picture grew directly out of this new approach.
I decided that editing would be admissible as long as it was the total content of
the tape. It would still be imitating the processes of art (Clement Greenbergs
phrase) rather than capitulating to television.
Making use of studio equipment (1-inch tape) rather than a Portapak, this work
features precise control over the editing and is carefully lit and composed. Cameron
has produced a number of versions of this short tape, some with more explicit sexual
overtones, achieved by the rapid intercutting of the subjects (Marlene Hof) naked
body, but in the version preferred by the artist because of its greater psychological
power, Hof is shown fully clothed, always very briefy, either leaving or entering the
Keeping Marlene Out of the Picture begins with the title superimposed across the
screen, which fades to reveal the corner of an interior in an institutional reception
space. (Te entrance foyer of the library at the University of Guelph, where Cameron
was teaching at the time.) Te static composition is carefully balanced the left-hand
side of the frame dominated by a large potted plant, a door in the centre of the frame,
and a plastic stackable chair placed to the right. Troughout the tape, the ambient
sound is subdued, the occasional footsteps and distant snippets of conversation
punctuated by interruptions created by the jump cuts Cameron uses to keep his
subject from crossing the frame.
Tere is no apparent procedural pattern to the editing structure beyond the
obvious strategy to edit out Marlene every time she enters the frame. Initially the
cuts occur as soon as the subject enters the frame from any direction, often with only
the appearance of her shadow as an indication of her approach, but increasingly the
motivation for the cut seems randomized, and there are eventually shots of Marlene
leaving the frame as well as entering it.
I was certainly conscious of a kind of progression in the unfolding of the
sequence of incidents throughout the piece, beginning with very slight hints,
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9.1: Eric Cameron, Keeping Marlene Out of the Picture, 1973. Courtesy of the artist.
9.2: Eric Cameron, Keeping Marlene Out of the Picture, 1973. Courtesy of the artist.
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shadows etc., and the going on to more emphatic incursions, but the process was
poetic rather than systematic.
Tere are also occasional repeat edits a triple repeat when Marlene runs into the
frame from the right, and a multiple repeat action of the centrally framed door
opening and shutting, establishing a momentary staccato rhythm. For the most part
Marlene is seen in profle or from the back, although she occasionally approaches the
camera or is seated facing the screen when the plastic chair has been moved.
In the last few moments of the tape the title caption reappears, with the letter
K of the word Keeping tilted to the right. A fgure passes through the frame (the
artist?) obscuring the image, leaving just two Os from the title, then as a voice of
camera shouts OK, the letter K reappears upside down briefy before the image
cuts to white.
Te subliminally sexual content of Keeping Marlene out of the Picture emerges
out of the wider context of Numb Bares I. In other segments, for example Ha-ha,
9.3: Eric Cameron, Keeping Marlene Out of the Picture, 1973. Courtesy of the artist.
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Breasts + 2 and Behind Bars, this erotic theme is much more explicit. For Cameron
the externalizing of content was (and is) a crucial issue in both his painting and
in his video work. Te fnal version of Numb Bares I, re-edited in 1997 was an
attempt to reconcile form and content. Refecting on the new video technology of
the 1990s Cameron was very aware of the issues it raised within his own oeuvre,
especially in terms of the shift away from the concerns of modernism towards
more politically motivated content in the late 1970s by many artists working with
Te new machine forces the issue of subject matter in the old sense. At one time
I do recall asking myself what there was in the world I cared about sufciently
deeply to allow it to become the subject matter of my art. I think it must have
been about the same time, in the aftermath of Greenbergian modernism, that
many other artists were asking themselves the same question and arriving at
answers that had to do, in one way or another, with issues of social justice. My
answer was quite diferent.
Dara Birnbaums (1946, USA) Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, completed
in 1978 and produced as part of a series of television studies, was one of the earliest
video art tapes to appropriate broadcast television material as part of a critical strategy.
In 1981 Birnbaum described her approach to using TV material:
I am a pirater of popular cultural images choosing what is most accepted and
used for portrayal. Each works created movements of suspension/arrest call into
question authorship and authenticity. I choose to reinvest in the American TV
image in order to probe distributed senses of alienation and their subsequent
levels of acceptance.
Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman uses multiple repetitions of short actions
of sound and image via rapid-fre video editing techniques and a close analysis of the
lyrics of the TV programme theme song (using computer graphic displays of the song
lyric texts) to highlight and critique the stereotyped messages and cultural assump-
tions of the US television series Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman spins like a top, as she gets into her cape. Ten she blocks
bullets with her magic bracelets (also bumps into inefectual men, then says in
a bone-dry delivery: Weve got to stop meeting this way). We see her roboti-
cally at work, like the title of the tape, Technology/transformation spinning
and sparking. She resembles a Wonder Woman doll abandoned by a child. She
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keeps running without a story or a (dramatic) purpose, except the memory of
old games.
Birnbaum uses a simple multiple repeat-edit strategy to critique and deconstruct the
fantasy TV programme, unlocking some of the assumptions behind the programmes
message by highlighting and exaggerating its absurdity. Te tape begins with ten fast
repeat edits (both sound and picture) of a screen-flling explosion, then cuts to seven
multiple repeat edits of a fragment in which the actress Linda Carter, dressed in
civilian clothes, is spinning before the camera in preparation for her transformation
into Wonder Woman. Each of these repeats includes the image of an explosion,
which flls the screen area before cutting back to a repeat of the sequence. After the
seventh repeat, the sequence cuts to the spinning super-heroine making her trans-
formation. She runs across the frame from the right and past the camera to a freeze
on the left of the screen, in a music and image sequence that is repeated four times.
Wonder Woman (in full costume) is again shown spinning, this time in front of a
9.4: Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1979. Courtesy of Electronic Arts
Intermix, EAI, New York, http://www.eai.org
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clump of trees, in a sequence that is shown seven times, with the repeated sound
phrase Wonder Woman from the theme song serving as punctuation. Te uniformly
fast pace is now broken as Wonder Woman stops spinning in front of a wall of mirrors
which she approaches. She scratches the mirror surface. Tis action and music track
is repeated three times before there is a further transformational explosion showing
Wonder Womans alter ego doing further pirouettes in front of the mirrors. Tis is
repeated three times and then is cross-cut with a shot of the fully costumed Wonder
Woman. Wonder Woman passes through the mirror, encountering one of the inter-
changeable (male) characters, before protecting him from a hail of fying bullets in
a twice-repeated action sequence. Wonder Woman is then shown running in a rural
landscape setting in a triple repeat montage, before beginning to spin once again. Tis
is repeated ten times in a reprise of the earlier repeat cluster using the same sampled
theme song fragment. Te sound and image of the explosion which began the tape
is now repeated twenty times before cutting to electronically generated scrolling
captions (white text on a blue ground) which present the banal lyrics of the song
playing on the soundtrack:
Birnbaums rapid-fre editing technique in Technology/Transformation: Wonder
Woman entirely eliminates the narrative from the original television series, leaving
only the fantasy element. Tis multiple repeat strategy accentuates the absurdity
of the original material and questions the programme-makers assumptions about
the target audience. Birnbaum breaks the spell of the original television material
by cutting away everything else from the original and exaggerating the magic
of the special efects. Bairnbaums deconstructive editing technique was made
possible by access to low-cost frame-accurate editing equipment that had become
available during this period enabling her to appropriate a technique previously
developed by experimental flmmakers such as Bruce Conner (19332008, USA)
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in his tightly edited collages of archive flm footage A Movie (1958) and Cosmic
Ray (1961).
Tis approach with its high speed re-editing and manipulation of of-air and found
material was infuential, spawning a genre of political video work in the United States,
the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the early 1980s, which came to be known as
Scratch Video. Examples of this work include a number of key works produced by
George Barber (1968, Guyana) in the mid-1980s such as Yes Frank, No Smoke and
Absence of Satan (both 1985). Barber, a prolifc video artist who has continued to work
with the medium up to the present day, was also responsible for the publication of two
infuential compilation tapes: Te Greatest Hits of Scratch Video, Vols. 1 and 2, which
included his own and other Scratch Video works by UK-based artists such as Night of
a 1000 Eyes (Sandra Goldbacher and Kim Flitcroft) and Blue Monday by the Duvet
Brothers (see below for a more detailed discussion of this work). Other signifcant
Scratch Video works of this period include Te Commander in Chief (1985) Gorilla
Tapes/Luton 33 (Jon Dovey, Gavin Hodge and Tim Morrison); Tory Stories (1983) by
Pete Savage; and Jzef Robakowskis Sztuka To Potega (Art is Power) (1985) (see below).
Catherine Elwes videotape With Child presents a highly personal view of thoughts and
feelings in the period leading up to childbirth. Te tape builds an autobiographical
narrative in which the artists pregnant condition is given wider connotations. Elwes
speaks of the conficting and complex feelings associated with the period of her
pregnancy via a series of tight close-ups and simple camera movements, employing
an editing technique that at times resembles stop-motion animation. Te tape makes
a personally political statement via the makers own pregnancy. Elwes uses her
autobiographical position as the subject and the author of the work, turning around
the traditional view of women as the object of the gaze and the subject of discourse.
Drawing on Laura Mulveys highly infuential essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative
Cinema in which she argued that the look of the camera in conventional narrative
flm was always masculine, thus perpetuating images of women as objects of male
Elwes was also infuenced by the feminist politics of the womens movement:
Like many women artists of the time, I drew on autobiographical material
and I followed the feminist principle of consciousness-raising in which women
exchanged accounts of their lives and applied a wider political analysis to their
personal experiences. Tis gave rise to the slogan Te Personal is Political and
so provided the philosophical and methodological basis of my work for many
years. Video ofered the perfect medium within which to explore autobiography
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and manifestations of the self. Te technology produced instant image feedback
and could easily be used in a private space like a mirror, the images accepted or
wiped according to the perceived success of the recording.
Told almost completely via the close-up, the scale of With Child is magnifed. Elwes
was particularly interested in using the camera as an instrument of self-examination,
whilst simultaneously preventing the viewer from getting too close. Te tactility of
video is questioned and addressed. With Child somehow implied intimacy without
actually allowing it:
My tapes werent confessional but had much more to do with the body much
more to do with a kind of self-examination about the outside. Tinking about
it the close-up was very important. Close-ups of hands, the close-up of a leg,
close-up of the breast . Getting as close as you can possibly get . Teres a
moment somewhere between abstraction if youre say, 5 ft away from your
subject, there isnt a sense of intimacy, theres a sense that youre looking at an
image of somebody . It seems to require that the camera is an exact distance
from the object probably about 5 or 6 inches-to get that sense that youre there
but not there, and therefore the possibility of touching what you cant touch.
Trough the use of intimate close-ups of her face, and of the brightly coloured but
slightly tatty childs toys and clothing, and the cocooned environment of the nursery,
Elwes provides us with fragmented details of the intimate and enclosed walls of her
domestic life. Te camera magnifes moments of her personal time and location, her
confnement the outside world of the garden is only ever glimpsed at through
With Child is also witty and tender, and through simple narrative devices it
eloquently presents a series of complex and contradictory feelings: anxiety, anger,
aggression, love, fear, sexuality, anticipation and hope, whilst also tackling a wider
and more political theme:
Elwes work operates at a threshold where relations of power are thrown into
question, in a way that would not be possible if the exercise of patriarchal power
were absolute. More than that, by playing, in the instance of With Child with the
iconography of pregnancy, she again re-centres the discourse of sexuality around
the issue of femininity in a motion which is socially illegitimate. Because after all
the image of a pregnant woman is no simple signifer in a visual language but a
picture which, in motion, attracts narratives around it. Here is a condition which
is unstable: a condition that cannot be maintained, a plenitude that reaches its
fullest just at the moment of highest drama at which it must come to an end.
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Elwes use of sound is especially signifcant and skilful. Using an editing technique
that echoes her fragmented camerawork, sound is used as a form of punctuation,
emphasizing her careful and precise visual juxtapositions. Elwes cuts together
samples of sounds: mechanical toys, clock chimes, a childs piano, a blending of
mother and childs heartbeat, rainfall and wind to produce a montage evoking
nostalgia and intimacy.
In With Child, Catherine Elwes made efective and powerful use of the then newly
available Sony Series Five (VO 5850/RM 440) U-matic editing suite, creatively
exploiting the systems capabilities for the fast and accurate editing of sound and
9.5: Catherine Elwes,
With Child, 1983.
Courtesy of the artist.
9.6: Catherine Elwes,
With Child, 1983.
Courtesy of the artist.
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Suddenly when U-matic editing came along, what it did for me personally
anyway, was to unleash a natural weakness for narrative. Whereas the earlier
work had related much more to performance, once I was able to edit more
accurately I found myself more able to make narratives. Although there werent
any words in them, nonetheless I was aware of building narratives.
Blue Monday can be clearly seen to be part of a genre of video art, infuenced by the
work of artists such as Dara Birnbaum, which later came to be known as Scratch
Video. Scratch was an early 1980s phenomenon in the UK and elsewhere, which
arouse through a combination of political, ideological, technical and social forces
prevalent at the time. Te growth of the home video recorder was a factor in this
phenomenon, as was a fascination with the television imagery that had shaped and
9.7: Sony RM440 edit controller, photo by the author.
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infuenced the visual culture of the post 1960s generation. Te social and political
climate of the period was also an important factor, especially the decline of post-war
socialism and the rise of Tatcherism.
Some artists are now trying to make direct social comments with scratch.
Te Duvet Brothers for instance, cut together urban wastelands and well-fed
conservative politicians. Te pace is snappy and the images are well oiled by the
inevitable disco soundtrack. We are left wondering whether to debate the evils
of unemployment or get up and dance.
As artist and academic Jeremy Welsh (1954, UK) points out, Scratch Video had two
basic tendencies: the graphic approach of artists such as George Barber in Scratch
Free State (1984) and Kim Flitcroft and Sandra Goldbacher, who collaged glossy and
seductive televisual imagery into new electronic realities such as Night of 1000 Eyes
(1984), and the slightly later agit-prop tendency of Gorilla Tapes/Luton 33 and
the Duvet Brothers. Welsh suggests that the agit-prop branch of Scratch Video was
derived from community video rather than from the art school, drawing on powerful
image sources such as the Tatcher/Regan alliance against the background of the
political and social unrest in the period 19845.
Blue Monday by Rik Lander (1960, UK) and Peter Boyd MacLean (1960, UK)
known collectively as the Duvet Brothers, juxtaposes images of afuence, privilege
and prosperity (e.g. men in top hats, school boys attending Eton, a man lighting
a cigar with a fve-pound note, the Royal family, etc.) against images of fascism:
Oswald Mosley and the black shirts, police fghting with protesters at a political
demonstration, etc. Tis is followed by a full screen text graphic: Rich Get Richer
Poor Get Poorer rapidly cut to a music track by the pop group New Order. Tis
sequence is followed by images of a surgeon working in an operating theatre with
the superimposed caption: Private. Tis text/image superimposition is keyed onto a
tracking shot of an over-crowded graveyard, panning across countless tombstones. A
shot of the Russian Red Army on parade in full uniform intercut with images of the
police manhandling striking protesters swiftly follows. Tis image of the marching
soldiers continues, digitally compressed and framed into a square in the bottom right
of frame. All of this imagery is edited together seamlessly, with skilled use of slow
motion, image mixing and graphic efects to aid the montage, all cut to the beat of
the music track.
Te frst words of the lyrics come in: How does it feel, to treat me like you do?,
and we are shown images of smug Tory party leaders assembled together during
a conference: Michael Heseltine, smirking and chewing gum; a sinister-looking
Margaret Tatcher, shot from a low camera angle. Tis is followed up by a panning
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shot of the whole party, looking complacent and bored as the wreckers ball smashes
yet another building and an isolated individual walks across the expanse of an urban
Images of social unrest, civil action and mass protest are juxtaposed with images
of authority and control; the police, heavy-duty military hardware, missiles, fghter
planes, submarines, explosions images of social control, military dictatorship and
wasteful destruction. Te tape ends with a return to the image of the man burning
the fve pound note.
Te skilful deployment and montaging of found images; the collision of text
and graphics; the creation of meaning via the intercutting of images from diverse
sources, have much in common with photomontage techniques developed by the
Dadaists and Constructivists and employed for propaganda and political purposes in
the early twentieth century by John Heartfeld (1891968, Germany), El Lissitzky
(1890941, USSR) and Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891956, USSR) among others.
However, the Duvet Brothers output is ambiguous, as they produced tapes that
spanned both sub-divisions of the Scratch genre. It could be said that the work is
less about politics and more about the pleasure of manipulating images and sounds.
Blue Monday is appealing because of its rhythmic montage and rapid pace, and it
is likely that the rather heavy-handed political message was less important to the
nightclub audience than the relentless movement of its highly orchestrated imagery.
Te tape has immediacy and an accessibility that enabled it and similar work to reach
a wide audience. But the appeal of Scratch Video was also its limitation. Inevitably
the broadcast media, hungry for new forms and styles especially those with an
immediate appeal and a populist approach, quickly absorbed the new style. As Jeremy
Welsh observed, Once the otherness disappeared, much of the radical potential
went with it.
In his essay Logic to the Beneft of Movement Klaus vom Bruch (1952,
Germany) sets out his attitude to mainstream broadcast TV and video
technology and its potential as a medium for art. Committed to the notion that
video is not synonymous with broadcast television, ofering viewers a potential
alternative views of life and ideas, vom Bruch sets out his own manifesto for
artists working with video and their audiences, although it is not without his
characteristic irony:
Not everything that fickers is television. Te monitor is mainly used to observe
and control. It protects the social order. Whenever one does not want others
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to come too close, it ensures that they keep their distance. On its familiar dull
screen, people and things turn into objects. In this aquarium of unilateral use,
the video artist swims from drop out to drop out. He uses his work to set himself
apart from the slick diet of information and entertainment ofered by the large
public catering establishments. Instead of boring the viewers with a facade of
starched gentlemen in pin-stripes or of entertaining them with scenes of catas-
trophes and quiz games, video artists (male and female) make statements. Tey
take themselves and the conditions under which they live seriously, their state-
ments are identical. Te reception of a videotape is still based on the product
of hours of work times hourly wage. Tis eventually leads to impatience and
Vom Bruchs videotape Der Westen Lebt (Te Western Lives) has much in common with
his other work of the same period. Made in collaboration with Heike Melba-Fendel
(1961, Germany) the tape draws on imagery and sound from the popular cinema and
9.8: Klaus vom Bruch and Heike Melba-Fendel, Der Westen Lebt, 1983. Courtesy of Electronic Arts
Intermix (EIA), New York http://www.eai.org
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slyly critiques accepted notions of technology and flmic propaganda. Te carefully
collaged imagery and sound of this work deliberately masks a satirical intent. As vom
Bruch says ironically at the start of his essay: With a video camera in my hand, I work
with good humour and assurance.
Der Westen Lebt combines a relentlessly repeating loop of a close-up image of the
driving wheels and piston of a steam locomotive at speed with a fickering image of a
playfully kissing couple (vom Bruch and Melba-Fendel). Te driving rhythm of the
repetitive images and the insistent pulse of the soundtrack, combine with the imagery
to produce an erotic charge to the piece.
Te tape begins with computer-generated titles. Te captions with the artists
names are displayed in green against a black background and are followed by a brief
close-up of an oscilloscope display visualizing the hissing noise of the soundtrack in
a colour matching that of the text captions. Te train wheel image fragment is cut in
immediately, quickly establishing a forceful repetitive rhythm both visually and via
the accompanying beat of the soundtrack. Several beats later the keyed and fickering
image of the couple is introduced. Tese two distinctly diferent images are merged
using an image keying technique (chroma-key?) and arranged so that the womans
head and face are framed by the train wheel and the steam from the pistons creates a
kind of aura around the couple whilst also emphasizing the driving beat of the both
the train mechanism and the mechanics of the editing process. A second repeating
beat is added to the frst and they set up an alternating pattern that increases the
tempo and implies a level of erotic power. Approximately halfway through the tapes
duration, an additional visual element is also introduced, and a close-up of Melba-
Fendels head titling frst up and down and then moving from side to side is combined
with the other elements. Tis insistent and forceful energy is maintained for approxi-
mately four minutes and then as suddenly as it began the tape ends, fading rapidly
to black and to silence.
Tis tape extends Klaus vom Bruchs fascination with the video and technology,
ironically casting himself as hero. In works such as Propellerband (1979) and Das
Allierstenband (1982) vom Bruch depicts himself as both hero and creator, juxta-
posing and endlessly repeating images culled from cinema archives and war movies
in a mock celebration of technology and the flmic depiction of confict and war.
For vom Bruch there is a crucial relationship between the erotic power of narrative
cinema, technology and the machines of death and destruction.
In Der Westen Lebt vom Bruch accentuates his outpouring of flmographic
afection. vom Bruch himself takes the place of Brando and all other cinematic
heroes. Te roar of the locomotive is a simulated sound edit of a fragmented
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tap dance by Fred Astaire (!) Te mechanical monsters power of movement is
prolonged in the violence with which vom Bruch declares his passion. More than
ever, vom Bruch ladens us with pathos, leaving logos and ethos behind him,
among the ruins and the dead. Te Western lives, but for how long?
Josef Robakowskis dramatic videotape Sztuka To Potega (Art is Power) is set to a
music track by the Slovenian avant-garde music group Laibach, known for their
subversive cover versions of songs made popular by other groups. Leben Heit Leben
is Laibachs version of the pop anthem Life is Life originally written and performed by
the Austrian rock band Opus. Laibachs interpretation of Life is Life, sung in German,
has been arranged as a powerful and menacing military march.
Te tape begins with a medium shot of a number of large military transporters
hauling large and deadly looking missiles, slowly crossing the frame from left to
right in a halting but relentless slow motion. Te images are grainy monochrome,
and have been rescanned clearly copied from a television broadcast of a military
parade in a show of strength and power. After approximately one minute the image
cuts to a tightly framed medium close-up of uniformed army ofcers, their eyes right
as they pass before the camera. Te image presents both the individuality of each
face, and their uniformity each face determined and intent. Te rhythm and pace
of the soundtrack has been matched to the inexorable movement and fow of the
procession. Te camera zooms into the screen and onto an individual face, increasing
the visual screen texture and pattern of the video raster. As the procession of men
surges forward, and each individual face passes through the frame, the swaying
motion of the marching soldiers is enhanced by the camera perspective, which slowly
zooms out again to reveal the lines of men in formation. Te scene is cut to the front
of the procession showing a group of three ofcers saluting, followed by fag bearers
and ordered ranks of sailors, their arms swinging in unison, the high arc of their
gloved hands blurring against the dark tones of their uniforms. Te image is of a sea
of men, many lines deep, marching in time to the relentless beat of the soundtrack
music. Te text SZTUKA TO POTEGA (Art is Power) is superimposed in white
letters in the centre of the lower section of the screen and held for approx 20 seconds,
as the marching soldiers continue in close-up to cross the screen, their exaggerated
arm movements marking the pace of their marching. A line of high-ranking ofcers
are shown saluting and pass through the frame followed by another huge phalanx
of soldiers in formation as the music track reaches a crescendo with a mix of guitar,
voices and organ chords.
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A new angle is introduced at this point, and the image shows a car containing a
single saluting soldier leading a large formation of marching troops at normal speed,
closely followed by a change of pace in the music and close-up shots of a marching
band, drummers, musicians and soldiers at quick pace as the tempo of the music
increases. Te rescanned image has been replaced with normal resolution footage as
the parade is shown massing into groups and the image cuts to a wide-angle shot.
Tis more distant view is maintained as images of light tanks driving in formation
are presented, occasionally mixed with superimposed portraits of individual military
heroes overlaid onto the moving rows of men and machinery. Tis relentless visual
barrage of military hardware and manpower continues to build against the assertive
declarations of the song lyrics; Im fesh, Im blood, etc.: the musical build-up
synchronized to the fnal visual montage of rockets, missiles and weapons of power
and destruction, as the music fades out and the images fade to black.
Te source images for Robakowskis powerful critique of this display of military
might and aggression are very clearly culled from televised footage of the annual May
9.9: Josef Robakowski, Sztuka To Potega (Art is Power), 19845. Courtesy of the artist.
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Day parades in Moscows Red Square at the height of the Cold War. It is important to
note that when the work was made Poland was still under communist rule, and had
only recently emerged from a period of martial law (19813), in which the owning
of cameras by private citizens was prohibited. Many Polish artists and flmmakers
continued to work, but were forced underground, unable to exhibit in public galleries
and venues.
Sztuka To Potega (Art is Power) is clearly intended to be subversive. In common
with work by the UK-based scratch artists such as the Duvet Brothers and Guerrilla
Tapes, Robakowski has re-appropriated broadcast television material, shifting the
originally intended messages and meanings to create a powerful and critical political
statement. However, this approach to engaging in the making of subversive works
in flm and video was not new to Robakowski, and his involvement with politically
critical experimental flm and video can be traced back to his involvement with the
Zero-61 group in the late 1960s and his co-founding of the Film Form Workshop
at the flm school in Lodz in 1970
(see Chapter 2). Te groups manifesto declared
its intention to make flms, recordings, TV broadcasts, radio programmes, art
exhibitions, various art events and interventions and also engage in theoretical
research and critical activity. To explore and expand the potential of audio-visual
Sztuka To Potega (Art is Power) is also part of a larger personal project a body of
work in both flm and video entitled My Very Own Cinema which Robakowski has
described as Something Im working on when nothing is working out a way of
remembering myself, of recording my state of mind and my gestures and the powerful
emotional states that have accompanied real life.
For Robakowski this project is
centred on the development of a new form of moving image that is very closely related
to the development of video and its potential for a cinema of the personal based on
the intimate, and this is bound up with the technological development of portable
video recording equipment in the 1970s and beyond. In his 1976 essay Video Art:
A Chance to Approach Reality, Robakowski argued for the potential of video as an
artistic movement with the power to undermine the institution of broadcast TV:
laying bare the mechanisms of manipulating other people and pressuring them by
telling them how to live.
Sztuka To Potega (Art is Power) is an expos of the totalitarian regime in power
during the 1980s in Poland, and a conceptual exploration of the video medium and
its relationship to state television, as well as part of Robakowskis larger keen project
to explore the potential of video as an art form.
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As it became technically possible to electronically edit video and sound sequences
with some degree of accuracy, artists such as Eric Cameron who had initially explored
the potential of video in real-time recordings decided it was time to break the artistic
taboo. Te potential of video as a medium to explore, subvert, critique and decon-
struct the messages and conventions of broadcast television and narrative was a crucial
issue in the 1970s and 1980s. Just as it was fundamental to subversive and politically
active artists such as Jozef Robakowski, it was also attractive to feminist artists such
as Catherine Elwes and Dara Birnbaum who were interested in contributing to the
postmodernist resistance that the new medium heralded. Because of its fexibility,
versatility and increasing ubiquity, it provided a channel for the expression and presen-
tation of alternative viewpoints and the subversion of traditional representations.
Video artists such as Klaus vom Bruch in Germany, Dara Birnbaum in the USA
and the Duvet Brothers in the UK quickly began to exploit the power of the medium
to appropriate and manipulate images and meaning with fast accurate editing that
became more freely available by the early 1980s. Tese artists were not working
with basic editing tools available to community and low-budget video producers,
but accessed state-of-the-art independent facilities that were proliferating at the
time to service a new independent broadcast sector that was opening up in the
USA and Europe. Technical advances were not just being made at the bottom end
of the market: the new industrial/professional formats such as hi-Band U-matic,
and Betacam were now viable for broadcast. Rik Lander of the Duvet Brothers for
example, worked as an editor at Diverse Production in London, accessing the facilities
after hours for his own work.
Access to sophisticated and accurate editing facilities often also provided additional
benefts, as post-production suites also increasingly ofered the opportunity to manip-
ulate and adjust the image itself, as we will see in the following chapter.
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In parallel to the development of new editing tools, video artists explored the
potential of video technology to enable the mixing, transformation and manipulation
of the video signal. Video, like audio, is an electronic signal that can be altered and
transformed. Infnitely malleable, it can be amplifed, distorted, colourized, mixed
and multiplied. As has been discussed in Chapter 7, some artists were particularly
interested in the potential of video as an abstract form, whilst others preferred to
explore its qualities as a medium for the representation of the visible world, but many
artists of both persuasions were interested in the fuid nature of the medium and its
infnitely fexible signal. As new video-imaging tools and techniques were developed,
artists explored the possibilities and expressive implications of the medium. Tis
section discusses a few examples of works in this complex area made by artists who
are also discussed elsewhere in this book.
Monument, characterized by Ture Sjlander (1937, Sweden) as a series of electronic
paintings is a free-fowing collage of electronically distorted and transformed iconic
media images. Set to a similarly improvised jazz and sound efects track, images of
pop stars, political and historical celebrities and media personalities, culled from
archive flm footage and photographic stills have been electronically manipulated
stretched, skewed, exploded, rippled and rotated. Te relentless fow of semi-
abstracted monochromatic faces and associated sounds seems to both celebrate and
satirize the contemporary visual culture of the time. In its fuid mix of visual infor-
mation it generalizes the television medium, draining it of its specifc content and
momentary signifcance. It creates a kind of monument to the ephemeral all this
will pass, as it is passing before you now.
Archive flm footage and photographic stills of iconic faces and people Lennon
and McCartney, Chaplin, Hitler, the Mona Lisa the monuments of world culture,
ficker and fash, stretch and ooze across the television screen. In some moments the
television medium is itself directly referenced, the familiar screen shape presented
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and rescanned, images of video feedback, and at one point its vertical roll out of
adjustment anticipating Joan Jonas seminal tape (see Chapter 8) although for
very diferent purposes. Te work anticipated a number of later videotapes, particu-
larly the distorted iconic images of Nam June Paik. Gene Youngblood described
the psychological power and efect of these transformations in his infuential and
visionary book Expanded Cinema:
Images undergo transformations at frst subtle, like respiration, then increasingly
violent until little remains of the original icon. In this process, the images pass
through thousands of stages of semi-cohesion, making the viewer constantly
aware of his orientation to the picture. Te transformations occur slowly and
with great speed, erasing perspectives, crossing psychological barriers. A fgure
might stretch like silly putty or become rippled in a liquid universe. Harsh
bas-relief efects accentuate physical dimensions with great subtlety, so that one
eye or ear might appear slightly unnatural. And fnally the image disintegrates
into a constellation of shimmering video phosphors.
10.1: Ture Sjlander and Lars Weck, Monument, 1967. Courtesy of the artists.
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Sjlander and his collaborators at Sveriges Radio (Te Swedish Broadcasting
Company) in Stockholm had worked together on a number of related projects since
the mid-1960s, beginning with Te Role of Photography, his frst experiment with
electronic manipulations of the broadcast image in 1965. Tis project was followed
with the broadcast of Time (1966), a 30-minute transmission of electronic paintings
produced using the same temporarily confgured video image synthesizer that was
later used to create Monument.
Te system that Sjlander and his colleagues used involved the transfer of photo-
graphic images (flm footage and transparencies) to videotape using a fying spot
telecine machine (see Glossary). Tis process produced electronic images that they
transformed and manipulated by applying square and sine signals with a waveform
generator during the transfer stage, often using this process repeatedly to apply greater
levels of transformation (see also Chapter 7).
For Sjlander and his collaborator Lars Weck (1938, Sweden), the broadcasting of
Monument was the epicentre of an extended communication experiment in electronic
image making reaching out to an audience of millions. Kristian Romare, writing
in the book published as part of an extended series of artworks which included
publishing, posters, record covers and paintings after the broadcasting of Monument,
describes the scope of Sjlander and Wecks vision and aspirations for the new image-
generating technique they had pioneered:
Here they have manipulated the electronic manipulations of the telecine
and the identifcations triggered in us by well-known faces, our monuments.
Tey are focal points. Every translation infuences our perception. In our
vision the optical image is rectifed by inversion. Te electronic translation
represented by the television image contains numerous deformations, which
the technicians with their instruments and the viewers by adjusting their
sets usually collaborate in rendering unnoticeable. Monument makes these
visible, sues them as instruments, renders the television image itself visible
in a new way. And suddenly there is an image generator, which fully
exploited would be able to fll galleries and supply entire pattern factories
with fantastic visual abstractions and ornaments. Utterly beyond human
Monument was broadcast to a potential audience of over 150 million people in
France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Switzerland in 1968 as well as later in the
USA. Subsequently Sjlander produced A Space in the Brain (1969) based on images
provided by NASA, extending his pioneering electronic imaging television work to
include the manipulation and distortion of colour video imagery. A Space in the Brain
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was an attempt to deal with notions of space, both the inner world of the brain and
the new televisual space created by electronic imaging.
Sjlander, originally a painter and photographer, had become increasingly dissat-
isfed with conventional representation as a language of communication and began
experimenting with the manipulation of photographic images using graphic and
chemical means. For Sjlander, broadcast television represented a truly contemporary
communication medium that should be adopted as soon as possible by artists a fuid
transformation and constant stream of ideas within the reach of millions. Te televised
electronic images Sjlander and his collaborators produced with Time, Monument
and Space in the Brain were further extended via other means. Te television system
was exploited as a generator of imagery for further distribution processes including
silkscreen printing, posters, record covers, books and paintings that were widely
distributed and reproduced, although ironically signed and numbered as if in limited
Merging-Emerging is the frst of Peter Donebauers tapes made using the Videokalos
Image Processor (IMP) (see Chapter 7). Recorded live and mastered on 2-inch
videotape (broadcast standard) with no subsequent editing, it is the best take of a
real-time recording of a collaborative performance.
Merging-Emerging is the videotaped record of an interaction between Donebauer
(working with three video cameras, the Videokalos IMP, and a live video feedback
loop), two dancers (male and female) and two musicians (playing fute, violin and
electronics). Donebauer organized his electronic modifcations of the colour and form
of the video images to be displayed live, enabling the performers (musicians, video
artist and dancers) to respond to each others actions and adapt their own contributions
accordingly. Te working procedure included an opportunity for the collaborators
to discuss the thematic approach prior to the recording session, with Donebauer
suggesting an overall treatment, which was then elaborated by the participants. Tis
allowed considerable scope for improvisation and interpretation, both prior to and
during the recording sessions, and the working procedure allowed for and encouraged
developments and revisions, similar to the way that jazz musicians often collaborate.
Te instant playback and live image relay of video made this feasible. Parallels to live
music and theatre improvisations are obvious, but the additional element of live video
image processing allows for the development of previously unexplored non-narrative
and time-image-movement relationships.
Donebauer, interested in exploring relationships between technological media and
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larger more natural and elemental forces, felt that working with video gave him a
new way of approaching abstract themes:
the medium allowed a very fast exploration of abstract forms. By manipu-
lating this technology to obtain feedback in certain ways, you created these forms
which were recognizable. Tis was a form which could be used to create nature
itself eddies of water, gasses or astronomical forms. You recognize those forms
either because youve seen them before through scientifc imagery, or because
you recognize them in nature in the whirls of a shell or something. Or perhaps
they are strong, symbolic archetypes certain shapes which touch deeply inside
our past consciousness.
My particular interest was in the exploration of consciousness and arche-
typal forms. Video was a very fast way to do it. Other mediums had explored
it photography for example. I think it was the fact that video was obviously an
unexplored form. A new technology had allowed a new form to emerge.
Merging-Emerging is the frst of Donebauers tapes to incorporate representational
imagery. Te title of the work refers to the emergence of the human form,
initially unrecognizable but gradually emerging through the quality and nature
of the movement, and fnally through the slowly shifting focus of the cameras.
Donebauer has often used defocused cameras in his work, a technique he found
One day when I was working in the studio at the Royal College, the cameras lost
focus. I was transfxed. My whole world was changed I never shot anything
in focus ever again! When the cameras are severely out of focus, it creates a
wonderful immediate form of abstraction. All these devices are so controlled to
provide an accurate reproduction of whats in front of them, suddenly to have
that thrown of gives a huge burst of inspiration.
Te initial image of the tape is of video feedback (see Chapter 12) a formal device
unique to live electronics which Donebauer considered fundamental to his approach,
representative of the self-refexive nature of video and an expression of the energies
and forces at work at both the micro and the macro scales in nature.
Te tape has a simple unifying structure, with the collaborative performers working
to present a gradually unfolding process, the emergence of the constituent visual
(video), musical (acoustic) and choreographic (movement) elements that constitute
the piece. All three of these disciplines require a structure derived from pacing, and
in this work the pace is the unifying feature, as the interrelationship between the
chromatic and compositional changes, the choreographic movements and the musical
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tempi form the core of the experience when watching the tape. Tus the interaction
between the collaborative elements is at the core of the work.
In this tape Donebauer worked predominantly with primary colours reds, blues
and greens, using the electronic colour palette and soft-focused abstracted forms in
place of the traditional perspectival depth that is the norm of conventional televisual
space. Troughout the tape, the experience is of a slowly evolving relationship
between colour, form, movement and sound there is a development towards repre-
sentation from abstraction and then back again to abstraction, although Donebauer
claims it is not so much abstraction, as an attempt to represent primal universal
energy in moving visual terms.
For Donebauer, the tape also explores notions about the complex interrelationships
between male and female:
[Merging-Emerging] depicts the emergence of human form from an unformed
primal energy mass. Te content of the tape thus refers to the relationship of
male and female energies to larger cosmic energies of which they are part.
Te Refecting Pool is the frst tape in a set of works grouped under the generic title,
Te Refecting Pool Collected Work 197780. Te full list of the works in this series
is: Te Refecting Pool (19779) 7:00 minutes; Moonblood (19779) 12:48 minutes;
Silent Life (1979) 13:14 minutes; Ancient of Days (197981) 12:21 minutes;
Vegetable Memory (197880) 15:13 minutes. Tese were produced in association with
WNET/Tirteen Television Laboratory, New York and WXXI-TV Artists Television
Workshop, Rochester New York.
Completed in 1979, Te Refecting Pool marks a change from Violas earlier more
formal approach to single-screen video work. Tis tape is more concerned with the
visionary with themes of transcendence and spirituality. In works made in the
period before this such as Migration, Te Space Between the Teeth (both 1976) and
Sweet Light (1977) Viola considered his approach to be structural, in that they were
more directly concerned with the video medium with an emphasis on an explo-
ration of the mediums scope and inherent properties.
My work up until then had been about learning to play the instrument. Tats
also the history of video. A lot of early work is difcult to look at; you are essen-
tially watching someone learning their scales.
In the period between 1977 and 1979 Viola became increasingly interested in
visionary and mystical literature, in particular the writings of William Blake, P. D.
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Ouspensky, Jalal al-Din Rumi and Lao Tzu.
Concurrent with this period of research
Viola developed notions about video as a medium with which it was possible to
express ideas about the invisible, or perhaps more accurately that video could be used
to bridge the gap between visible phenomena and the forces of energy behind them.
Violas interest in these invisible forces led him to seek ways to use video a medium
seen by many to epitomize the literal. (It is, after all, the preferred medium for news
and documentary, and the medium of surveillance.) It is this paradoxical aspect that
Viola sought to exploit even making use of the traditionally authentic device of
the fxed camera, symbolic of the unbiased and unmanipulated neutral observer. In
an interview with the art historian Jorg Zutter, Viola identifed his use of the static
camera fxed to observe and record felds rather than views. In this approach to the
use of the video camera he cites the infuence of the acoustic properties of the interiors
of Italian medieval cathedrals and churches that he frequented when he was technical
director of Art /Tapes/22 in Florence.
I felt that I had recognized a vital link between the unseen and the seen, between
an abstract, inner phenomenon and the outer material world. I began to use
my camera as a kind of visual microphone I realized that it was all interior. I
started to see everything as a feld.
Viola, writing about video in that period paraphrased Nam June Paik: [video]
is a form of communication with the self via a responsive machine.
responsive machine of video includes, for Viola, a wide range of electronic
image techniques specifcally associated with the medium: slow motion and
high-speed photography, image intensifcation, superimposition, low-light video,
freeze-frame, keying, etc.
In Te Refecting Pool the external world is presented initially with an authentic
static framing. Te viewer sees a low-resolution video image of a dark pool of water
set in a forest clearing, green trees refected on its shimmering surface. Te video
frame is divided roughly in half, the refecting pool, which is bounded by manmade
straight edges, occupying the bottom portion of the frame. Te soundtrack is another
of Violas felds ambient forest sounds, birdsong, and wind, but predominantly
fowing water presumably from a nearby stream of camera.
A clothed male fgure (Viola?) emerges from the forest, approaches the undulating
pond and stands poised at the waters edge in the centre of the frame peering down
into the pool. His fgure is refected on the waters surface, the combined image of
the fgure and his refection bisecting the frame and producing a vertical axis. Te
image is completely symmetrical, divided horizontally by the pools edge, and verti-
cally by the fgure and his refection. Te man hesitates, wavering in indecision, but
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clearly contemplating action, for approximately 45 seconds before leaping forward
and up into a crouching position exclaiming loudly as he does so. At this point
the image freezes, and the viewer is aware for the frst time that the image is not
authentic, and that some form of special efects have been employed. Not only
does the frame freeze in a standard and predictable video efect treatment, but also
more surprisingly, the surface of the water in the pool continues to move. Tere is
a slightly perceptible jump in the image frame (the entire image shifts slightly to
the right), but it appears that the crouching fgure is frozen mid-air in the centre
of the screen whilst the rest of the sequence continues to move forward in time.
Te changes are now all within the framed area of the pool, bounded on all sides
by its manmade borders. Te colour and light level of the pool slowly shifts, the
water initially darkening before becoming calmer and lighter, refecting more of the
surrounding forest. A small stone is thrown into the pond of camera (not spatially
of camera, but temporally as the pond sequence is repeatedly cut to after the
stone hits the water, so that the ripples are seen to form without apparent cause).
Tis ripple sequence is repeated three times, each time allowing the water to settle
before the repeat. Te refection of another fgure is seen, but no corresponding real
fgure is in evidence. Te refected fgure walks along the edge of the pond which
horizontally bisects the frame and walks of -camera to the right of the frame.
Troughout this portion of the tape, the crouching fgure of the diver gradually
and imperceptibly fades into the background, the colours of his clothing subtly
blending into the forest behind. Tere is a larger splash in the pool, again without
an apparent source for the disturbance, followed by a brief sound of camera (the
crunch of a footstep?) Next, a pair of refected fgures (male and female?) walk
along the edge of the pool from the right, crossing the vertical axis of the frame.
One follows the other until they stand together in the left-hand corner of the pool
briefy, and then fade as the refecting pool becomes brighter and greener. Te water
is now revealed to be in reverse motion as ripples converge before coalescing into
a momentary disturbance which is abruptly cut to an image of the water at night,
revealing a single lit fgure refected in the black void. Tis bright refection then
moves across right, out of frame. Te daylight colour of the pool returns and the
soundtrack changes to include a pulsating sound from of camera. A submerged
swimmer suddenly emerges from the water near to the centre of the frame. Tis
naked male fgure climbs out of the pool and stands momentarily on the edge of
the pool centre frame with his back to the camera, and then disappears into the
forest, his movement edited so that he fades out and reappears further from the
frame. Fade to black.
In Te Refecting Pool video technology is used to present an almost mystical
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transformation of energy. Viola manipulates the temporal continuity of an inter-
action between man and nature freezing, reversing and contradicting linear time to
choreograph the relationship between them.
Te human condition is dualistic. Te sages and philosophers have tried to
transcend this state which is not ultimately possible. Te very real and positive thing
in this condition is the present. Tats the fulcrum of our desires, our fears, our
anticipations in life, our memories. Its all now . So I use the image of a dance,
two elements momentarily interacting, and then moving of somewhere else.
With the careful deployment of a simple electronic masking device Viola splits the
video frame into two separate time frames in which refections do not correspond
to the action above. Te pools surface no longer simply mirrors the human action;
they have become temporarily separate worlds, temporally split although still unifed
within the visual frame of the television screen.
Te Refecting Pool becomes a parable of mystic experience. A water surface no
longer throws a subjects mirror image back at him. Instead the man frst disap-
pears into a point of iridescent light, metamorphosed into nothing, before rising
up again out of the water. He has trodden another sphere, a secret strange world
of which we, as yet, know nothing.
Daniel Reeves Obsessive Becoming makes virtuoso use of a myriad digital video-
imaging techniques to build a reconstructed exploration of a dark and intimate family
myth. Woven together from range of family snapshots, home movie footage, inter-
views, computer-generated texts and re-enacted fragments of childhood memories,
the images are tumbled, twisted and transformed, they emerge and morph across and
through the frame using the television screen as a site for personal catharsis. Te centre
of Reeves video piece, broadcast by Channel Four Television in the UK, is an analysis
of a dark past violence, sexual abuse, bigamy, cruelty, deception and abandonment.
Reeves uses video (and perhaps even more signifcantly, the medium of television)
to trace and present an exploration of his family history and a meditation on the
relationship between masculinity and violence. Part family history, part personal
analysis, the tape is also an accomplished work of visual poetry, a complex and
fuid blend of the personal and the social. Family flm sequences are chroma-keyed
into iconic moments of historical signifcance. Film, video, texts, and photographic
images merge, blend and transform in virtual space which seems somehow to be
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outside of conventional time structures; Reeves uses duration to produce a stasis,
a kind of temporal gallery within which we can contemplate his digital audio-
visual construction as if it were a sculptural object. Tis complex mix of images,
sequences, texts, sounds and music is compelling, disturbing and questioning. Tere
is neither a conclusion, nor even a climax in the conventional sense; instead the work
presents a complex mosaic of ideas about kinship, love, genetic inheritance, Buddhist
philosophy, masculinity and death.
A lot of people become frustrated because theres no map its not spelled out.
Te relationships are somewhat unclear who is who. Tats always been a
working method of mine because I feel that it allows people to enter into the
work more fully. Tere never is any resolution, I believe, in anything, so there is
10.2: Dan Reeves, Obsessive
Becoming, 1995, Courtesy of the
10.3: Dan Reeves, Obsessive
Becoming, 1995, Courtesy of the
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no defnitive clarity, theres no end product, theres no result, its like the words
that are embedded in it no place to go, nothing to do, nothing to be.
Obsessive Becoming does have a narrative; Reeves traces his family history, revealing a
web of deceit and lies surrounding the identity of his real father, the truth of which
had been hidden from him until he was 30 years old. Tis painful narrative unfolds
gradually, simultaneously revealed and contained within the multi-textured images,
movements, texts and sounds he presents.
At times the piece veers deliberately very close to sentimentality. Te personal
nature of the material, the emotional tone of the voice-over (spoken in Reeves own
voice), and the circling and claustrophobic family images and sounds draw too close:
All this cloying romance, and desire, this longing to leave and be left, this
whining and pining for the shadow of the shadow of love turns the soul into an
empty night-club flled with the litter of broken and empty hearts
Tis text scrolls across a seamless and unceasingly fuid montage of monochrome
and colour snapshots and movies showing images of his family and relatives to the
strains of a sentimental love song. Tere are images of masculinity too; archive flm
of a native dugout, warrior oarsman with a shaman at the helm, boys armed with toy
guns, a child in an animal costume boxing, a platoon of soldiers sloughing knee deep
in a river, a dead soldiers body foating face down in the water, a caged tiger pacing,
an astronaut trips, falls and is blended with an electronically twirling child in a white
nightshirt, conjuring the image of a dream, or a nightmare.
Although there is a deeply personal story at the core of the work, there is a wider
theme too, as the images of violence against childhood open out suddenly to embrace
a broader stage. Now the tumbling child in the nightshirt is fying through the sky
over bombed and ruined cities, and it is family homes that are targeted the innocent
are being tortured everywhere.
Reeves repertoire of digital efects is comprehensive and dazzling. Obsessive
Becoming is a virtuoso blend of video, photography, flm, computer-generated
images and texts which are combined, recombined and blended using chroma-key,
morphing, paint-box efects, slow motion, colourizing, and animation. No image is
static; they are blended from one to another seamlessly to create a stream of cascading
visual sensations, which stir the viewer emotionally and physically.
Reeves skilled blending of video manipulation and digital imaging techniques
in Obsessive Becoming involved considerable experimentation over a long period.
Working closely with video-imaging tools throughout the tapes long gestation
period, Reeves was constantly reviewing the work and revising his techniques:
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With Obsessive Becoming it wasnt fve years in production it was probably ten
years because I started in 85 with my frst Amiga, and it wasnt till 93 almost
94 when I fnally went Aha! Tis is the dream world that I wanted to get to.
To be able to tear an image apart and re-form the image with complete freedom.
Even though you are only working in two dimensions, its the apparent three
Daniel Reeves has evolved a practice in which his control of imaging technology is
crucial to any reading of his work. His understanding of the relationship between the
video medium and his personal, spiritual and poetic sensibility is in a careful balance.
Trough a working practice that spans several decades he has investigated the nature
of the video image via the camera and computer to arrive at a point where his control
of the medium allows for the possibility of what flm and media historian Patricia
Zimmermann has termed healing through images.
Zimmermann has also pointed out that Reeves uses video at both the shooting and
the post-production phase as a method of transforming personal trauma:
Te act of shooting functions as an exorcism of personal trauma that settles
into spiritual resolution by transferring the Zen Buddhist notion of the present
moment to the production process, an action that counters postmodernisms
severance of the sign from the referent to create new meaning. Reeves work
forages for signifcation itself, an archaeology of the visual as a space where
trauma is scripted into memory.
Reeves deep understanding of the power of the video image stems from his
intimate knowledge of its material qualities. Tis began with an exploration of the
portable video camera, used for the frst time in his 1981 videotape Smothering
Dreams, when Reeves began to use broadcast video on location, and was further
extended by the use of a domestic camcorder in Ganapati: Spirit of the Bush
I became really enamoured and encouraged by the feeling the video camera could
be as direct a tool (within certain restrictions) as a pen, or a brush or a carving
tool . So through the years, every time there was a new technical development,
and this is not so much an issue of technical quality although that interested
me, but it was more that the camera became more and more an extension of my
own body like having another eye in which you could pick up anything and
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For Reeves this intimate engagement with the elements of video-imaging technology
extend beyond the camera to embrace electronic and digital image control, the
ability to get into the frame in order to unlock the poetic potential of the medium.
Working at the television lab at WNET with advanced broadcast digital image-
processing technology such as ADO (Ampex Digital Optics) and Quantel paintbox,
Reeves then began to modify domestic equipment (specifcally Commodore Amiga
computers) in order to fnd a way of working for extended periods in order to achieve
a more complete control of his imagery. Trough this working practice, he forged a
new relationship to the medium:
You begin to understand how the felds and the frames and the pixels relate to
each other. At some point you want to make the poetic leap you do, you must.
Te leap of poetry that Robert Bly alludes to in his work, where even though you
know all that, you jump beyond it. Somehow the image just stands above itself.
In the fnal section of Obsessive Becoming Reeves uses image morphing techniques to
stress family resemblance and mark the process of time and ageing. Under Reevess
precise control the electronic image reveals itself as truly plastic. His control of pace
and duration and masterful blend of images and sounds from a multitude of sources
are orchestrated in a way that rivals music in its fuidity and emotional power.
Whats interesting about video whatever that is, is that it does create the possi-
bility of this grand fusion of materials. I always have at some stage what I call
a marriage edit, a fnal edit where all the reels are brought together and all the
segments are embedded in the fnest wine the best tape that you can get.
Art of Memory was shot and mastered entirely on low-band U-matic, with all image
processing and electronic sound and picture manipulations done in Vasulkas studio in
Santa Fe (New Mexico), except the fnal six-channel mixes, which were completed at a
local facilities house. Te work is composed of three principal visual elements: colour
video recordings of desert and mountain landscapes; black-and-white documentary
flm footage and archive photographs (including the Spanish Civil War, the Russian
Revolution, World War II, atomic bomb tests, etc.) and computer-generated shapes
which are used to contain and frame the documentary material which is then
chroma-keyed into the landscape images.
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Vasulka has carefully orchestrated these three image sources, meticulously organ-
izing the relationships between them using a detailed visual coding system that
became the score for the video and sound editing process. Te frame-accuracy of the
image relationships of these three elements was maintained when combined electroni-
cally using a custom-made video synchronizer Vasulka constructed by adapting a
digital audio synchronizer.
As with his previous narrative work Te Commission (1992) there are no tradi-
tional video edits, or cuts in Art of Memory. Images and sequences shift from one
to the other through a series of transitions and electronic wipes. Most often scenes
and sequences are revealed and terminated by an enveloping darkness, and this occurs
throughout the tape, as if the electronic vistas on the screen were closed of momen-
tarily before being revealed again often with the accompanying sound of a closing
vault door.
Te fowing and scrolling documentary images of the historical past in Art of
10.4: Woody Vasulka, Art of Memory, 1987. Courtesy of the artist.
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Memory foat freely across timeless desert landscapes the images becoming time-
energy objects removed from their conventional chronological, historical and
conceptual framing. Vasulka worked predominantly with two image-processing tools
the Rutt-Etra Scan Processor, and the Digital Image Articulator (see Chapter 7)
to produce mathematically generated, almost organic objects that contain and present
the visual material. Tis technique of containment enabled Vasulka to avoid narrative
associations, de-contextualizing the historical and documentary aspects of the image
sequences, presenting the black-and-white images as a component of a metaphorical
landscape in which the electronic image simultaneously contains and re-confgures
the photographic. Te digitally produced space becomes a kind of electronic theatre
in which images and sequences emerge momentarily before being re-submerged into
the undercurrent of history and memory.
In his close analysis of Art of Memory, Raymond Bellour describes the work as
containing an experience of constant mobility between the cinematic shot as a unit
of comprehension and its destruction and reconstitution. For Bellour, Vasulkas tape
presents an experience
of unceasing intersections and crossings and one that would seem to defy any
drawing of distinctions. Nonetheless and such is the power of the tape the
idea of the shot, the feeling of the shot, though split, fractured, and as it were,
vaporised, still endures. Te shot remains the decoupage and memory device,
for the contemporary spectator as well as for the spectator whose mind scans the
history of wars captured by cinema in this century, which has become a history
of cinema itself.
Two human fgures also occupy this timeless electronic landscape a middle-aged
man (Vasulkas alter ego?) played by Daniel Nagrin (19172008, USA) and a winged
fgure (the Angel of Death or perhaps Walter Benjamins angel of history?),
although observed, refuses to be captured photographically. Tis conficting inter-
action is the only fragment of narrative in Art of Memory; the rest of the piece is
a lyrical blend of sound and picture in which ephemeral image-objects occupy a
timeless metaphorical landscape. Te protagonist is haunted by the images that he is
witness to listening to Robert Oppenhiemers anguished post-Hiroshima quotation
from the Bhagavad-Gita, and attacked by the angel for his attempted photography.
Te multi-layered sound is an important device in the work. Sampled and repeated
loop structures reinforce notions of the temporality and the malleability of memory.
Voices and sounds are unrecognizable and yet emphatic, the music is compelling and
nostalgic evocative of an outdated technology and a half-forgotten cinema newsreel
fading memories.
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Tere is nostalgia for the medium of cinema here too Vasulkas training as a
flmmaker, his admiration for the political flmmakers of the period before World War
II, his abandonment of cinema in favour of the electronic image and more recently his
transition from analogue video to digital space. Art of Memory also marks the end of
a period of work for Vasulka, who, on completion of this tape, abandoned his work
within the frame for the development of a series of constructed installations collec-
tively entitled Te Brotherhood (19906), that explore the potential of the machine to
reconfgure space. For Vasulka, previously involved in a systematic exploration of the
electronic and digital codes of the moving image and the time-image object, this is
a radical departure and a partial admission of the failure of his previous narrative
Art of Memory is a complex and moving work the achievement of a mature artist
who has systematically built a vocabulary of images through nearly two decades of
exploratory dialogue with the fundamental elements of his chosen medium the
signal, the camera, and the time-energy structures that the artist believes are unique
to video. Te work brings together a profound understanding of electronic imaging
with a poetic questioning of the value of lived experience to shed light on funda-
mental questions about the nature of memory, perception and their relationship to
the visual world.
Robert Cahen had originally intended to present a meditation on the experience of
looking out of a train window the depiction of a simple and mundane action. But
from this initial impulse Juste le Temps was developed into an enigmatic narrative
fragment, relating a chance encounter between a man and a woman that also seems
to be the departure point for a larger and more complex story. Te tape is enigmatic
and mysterious, creating and suggesting suspense and uncertainty. Te accom-
plished blend of image and sound create a fusion of reality and imagination, of
exterior appearances and interior spaces that hint at the complexity of human visual
perception. Cahens rendering of subjective perception via electronically manipulated
imagery is powerful and enigmatic.
Te tape presents the subjective view of two passengers on a train travelling
through a landscape. Cahen described his intention:
I wanted to convey what happens when you fnd yourself in a train and you look
around, trying to register surprising things happening in the distance, where the
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landscape goes by more slowly close up, everything glides by, is rubbed out,
becomes fuid.
Cahen has electronically transformed the views of the passing landscape in order to
suggest that some kind of exchange occurs between the two passengers. However,
in Juste le Temps the landscape also becomes a signifcant character, portrayed as
the catalyst in a set of oppositional relationships between image and sound: train
interior/ exterior landscape (Nature/Culture?) sound/silence, male/female, light/dark,
sleeping/ wakefulness. Te work hinges on an exploration of the transition between
various states of being.
Te image and sound transformations in Juste le Temps present a subjective mental
state that can be shared by the viewer. Te abstraction of the landscape is given a
narrative impulse they seem to occur as a response to the womans drowsiness and
10.5: Robert Cahen, Juste le Temps, 1983. Courtesy of the artist.
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her balance on the cusp between sleep and wakefulness, but as with the soundtrack,
the images also have their own autonomous function. In this approach, Cahen has
drawn on his training in musique concrte and the teachings of Pierre Schaefer (see
Chapter 5) in which the principal idea is linked to what is called reduced hearing the
hearing of a sound decontextualized from its original source.
Cahen worked principally with the Truquer Universel, a video synthesizer that
enabled the creation and transformation of colour, texture and multi-level imagery
(see Chapter 7) to produce the video transformations in Juste le Temps. Alongside
these techniques Cahen built up a complex layering of images that were mixed with
an oscilloscope display to produce a textured image that is reminiscent of those
created by the Vasulkas using the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor. Cahen has also manipu-
lated the colour, altering the natural palette of the video camera for one that merges
and alternates between the natural and the artifcial, between the everyday and the
My goal was to ofer viewers a story that would allow them to travel too, by
identifying with the video permutations. I wanted both reality and its transfor-
mation to exist at the same time.
Sandra Lischi refers to flmmaker Robert Bressons notion of an eternally wet
canvas to describe the fuidly transforming colours and textures in Juste le Temps,
also quoting Jean-Paul Fargiers reference to a fexible minerality in Cahens
treatment of images and colour. Te complex blend of depth and surface, of
monochrome and colour and temporal fuidity in Juste le Temps is often in some
sense painterly, as cultural theorist Paul Virilio suggests in his commentary on
the journey in Juste le Temps which he sees as transporting the spectator on a tour
through the history of painting.
Te tape is also in an important way sculptural and musical, so that ultimately it
suggests a synthesis of many genres and forms. Most signifcantly it is the blend of
ideas from earlier temporal art forms including music, photography and cinema, with
an exploration of the capabilities of electronic imaging technologies that distinguishes
Juste le Temps.
Although he trained in audio-visual techniques, Cahen collaborated closely with
the composer Michel Chion (1947, France) in the production of the complex
soundtrack, and on many levels the relationship between sound and picture refect
the structure of the work. Te soundtrack is a blend of sweeping musical sounds; a
piano can be easily identifed punctuated with the sudden interjection of natural
fragments; the chiming of bells, the joyful cry and the splash of a child plunging into
a swimming pool, the rhythmic pulse of the train travelling along the tracks. Tis
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soundtrack contributes and reinforces Cahens ideas and the diversity of sources of
inspiration for the work:
Once from a train I saw kids playing around a fre. And just when the train went
by I saw one kid push another into the fre. It made a very strong impression,
especially since only my imagination could supply what happened next.
Te train journey itself is an important and powerful metaphor. For Cahen the train
crossing the landscape provides a method for making a transition from one state
to another, the spectator and the passenger share a vantage point from which to
experience a transformation. In this sense the primary image in Juste le Temps is the
passenger and her viewpoint. Tere is a relationship between the interior subjective
worlds of an individual and the representation of an exterior reality. Seated at the
window of a train the world is gliding by and what you see is dependent on the
direction of your attention. In Juste le Temps the electronic sound and image manipu-
lations seek to express complex aspects of experience that challenge conventional
narrative constructions:
Instead of words I use a deforming instrument which underlines what words
cannot say, such as the movement of the body. It is a question of shadows or
of what a shadow allows you to imagine: what remains of a shadow which is
gradually or quickly discovered? Video allows you to give a voice to this shadow.
Neo Geo is one of the last in a series of videotapes that Callas produced using the
Fairlight CVI, which he frst began using soon after its introduction in 1986 (see
Chapter 5). His videotapes of this period all make use of bold, highly coloured,
superimposed graphic imagery and repeating animated layered surfaces. Tere is a
clear visual infuence from Pop Art, and at times the results resemble an animated
silkscreen print, with a dynamic, high-contrast and chromatically saturated palette.
Callas work with the Fairlight CVI during this period explored the potential of
this unique device, which enabled the tracing and redrawing of images that could
be stored in the computer memory and retrieved, to be used as stencils for super-
imposition and layering, and made to cycle, scroll and pan across the video screen.
Although the techniques Callas worked with can be compared in some ways to
flm animation, he was very aware of the distinctions and keen to point out the
I dont think an animator would think I was much of an animator. For example
one of the other ways I used the Fairlight . was a quick and easy two-frame
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animation technique. If you divided the stencil plane of the CVI into a check-
erboard pattern and stamped an image onto the positive checks, and another
image onto the negative checks and then rapidly interchanged them, youd get a
two-frame animation . With any of the Fairlight efects you were limited to a
2D plane, but an innite 2D plane which just kept scrolling over and over. So
you could go in any direction and the image that left the top of the screen will
reappear in the bottom and then move up again.
Made whilst Callas was resident artist at PS1 in New York City during 19889,
Neo Geo is a highly critical exposition of American culture, exploring the contra-
dictory images and icons of the USA at the end of the twentieth century. Te work
is a densely layered and complex mix of cartoon-style drawings, graphics and visual
iconography which bombards the viewer with sounds, colours and images that
10.6: Peter Callas, Neo Geo, 1989. Courtesy of the artist.
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increasingly saturate and overload the screen. As in the video works that precede Neo
Geo, such as If Pigs Could Fly (Te Media Machine) (1987) and Nights High Noon
An Anti Terrain (1988), Callas post-colonial political and ideological perspectives
emerge and engage through a playful and ironic juxtaposition of images of violence,
war, technology, religion and popular culture.
As Scott McQuire points out in his catalogue essay Electrical Storms: High Speed
Hisotoriography, Callas is an artist who has deliberately taken an international and
cross-cultural perspective in his mature work; not only did he spend signifcant
periods working outside his native Australia, but his interests and preoccupations are
in the cross-cultural exchange and impact of the global circulation of images. In the
mid-1980s Callas spent a number of years living in Tokyo and his experiences there
deeply afected his perception of the television screen and the video medium. Whilst
living and working in Tokyo his experience of the TV display as an aspect of archi-
tecture and urban space and of the video image itself as containing what he termed
a territorial dimension, deeply afected Callas view of the medium and its cultural
impact and signifcance.
In Neo Geo, Callas presents and challenges the viewers expectations and assump-
tions about the meaning, currency and signifcance of cultural images and their iconic
power he harnesses an ironic and dark humour fused with energy and fuid expres-
siveness, employing animation and electronic montage techniques to pose unsettling
questions. Troughout its nine-minute duration Neo Geo presents us with a multi-
layered critique of the unique American blend of capitalism, religion and politics.
Te work confronts us with the cultural mythology of American consumerism via
a barrage of sounds and images, symbols and texts explosions, the dollar sign, the
stars and stripes, the heroic frontiersman, Uncle Sam, etc. all instantly recognizable
and troublingly double-edged.
Callas fascination with the contradictory and conficting aspects of the images he
works with is clearly central to the construction and structure of Neo Geo and to the
images and sounds he has drawn together and orchestrated. His perception of video as
either pre-literal or post verbal a medium closer to painting than it was to flm is a
useful reference for Neo Geo and the key to gaining a sense of how he developed this
and other works he has made with the Fairlight CVI. Callas explains that he found
video enabled him to work without scripts, without words even and in real time,
and experiencing the fuid unfolding of Neo Geo, one has a sense and appreciation of
the expressive and creative opportunities this approach provided him with.
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As the electronic palette of video expanded in the 1980s and 1990s, artists were
increasingly able to explore its potential for the almost unlimited transformation
and manipulation of lens-based imagery. But these electronic manoeuvrings are not
merely technique they open up the potential for a pure abstract form of visual
experience that explores ideas and emotions that underlie language and thought
processes to explore relationships between perception and emotion. Te early example
of Sjlanders Monument anticipates what was to come, the fuid and elastic distor-
tions and transformations of recognizable objects, faces and events in that historic
early experiment are echoed and extended in the complex morphing sequences of
Obsessive Becoming and the digital thresholds in Art of Memory. In Neo Geo, this
fuid transformation of the electronic image was used to herald a newly emerging
circulation of global imagery. Te contemplative states evoked in the Refecting Pool
are also experienced in the spiritual world of movement, colour and light in Merging-
Emerging, and expressed in the encounter between time, movement and landscape in
Juste le Temps.
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Since the frst glimmerings of video as an art medium, it has been associated with
the gallery. Vostell and Paiks earliest presentations at the end of the 1950s, although
staged long before the term was coined, are perhaps best understood as installations.
Outside of the television broadcast context, video has been presented in galleries and
has required and demanded a diferent attitude, appreciation and understanding from
its potential audience. Videotapes, shown on small monitors, grouped in multiples,
or presenting live images from closed-circuit cameras presented a new viewing
experience challenging common assumptions about the nature of art, of television
and increasingly about its relationship to cinema and sculpture. Tis chapter will
discuss and present a small number of examples from the huge range of works
produced by artists working with video during the period under discussion. As has
been mentioned elsewhere in this book many, if not most artists who made video
installations also produced single-screen works, and these two modes of working
informed and infuenced each other profoundly all of the artists discussed below
have also made single-screen works.
All but one of the examples in this chapter feature the video monitor as the basic
component. Gary Hills Tall Ships uses video projection, and this is increasingly the
norm in current video practice. Chapter 14 discusses installation in some detail and
includes further examples of projection work, interactivity and the participatory
nature of video installation.
De La is a sculptural video installation constructed from a modifed version of the
camera machine built for the production of Michael Snows epic three-hour landscape
flm La Region Centrale (1971). Te original machine, built by Pierre Abbeloos,
a Montreal-based engineer, was designed to enable a flm camera to shoot images
in every direction from a central axis, changing camera angles, rotation speeds
and complex panning movements without interruption. During discussions with
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Abbeloos, Snow had specifed the maximum size of the machine and the size of the
rotating arcs:
Because of what I wanted to happen on the screen, it had to be at man-sized
height from the ground I started to think of the machine as an object in itself
as it was being built and to see that it was beautiful; I was thinking of other uses
for it when we made the flm.
After the flming of La Rgion Centrale in late September 1970, Snow decided to use
the machine for other purposes. (Originally, as used for the production of the flm,
the machine was not intended to be visible, and only a brief glimpse of its shadow
appears in La Rgion Centrale.) Snow asked Abbeloos to adapt the machine to support
a video camera, which could provide a live image to four video monitors, and the
resultant sculptural work, entitled From/De La Rgion Centrale was exhibited at a
private gallery in Ottawa. After this initial presentation the machine was modifed:
the motors, gearing and some of the electronic control circuits changed to enable
the permanent operation of the machine, resulting in a new work, De La, shown
in November 1971 at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Snows observations
about the installation highlight both the sculptural aspects of the structure and its
interrelationship to the live video image:
De La precisely has to do with seeing the machine make what you see . Teres a
really interesting separation between the maker of the images and the images .
You can follow the movements that are made by the sources of the image as well
as the results of those movements on the four screens. Contrary to the flm, it
doesnt have anything to do with afecting the sense of the fctional gravity .
11.1: Michael Snow,
De La, 196972.
Courtesy of the artist.
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De La is a sculpture and its really important that you see how the machine moves
and how beautiful it is . It is a kind of dialogue about perception.
Te installation presents a complex view of its own location and surroundings,
including any observers, the ambient light and the video monitors themselves. Te
live video camera provides monochrome images to the four monitors simultane-
ously, the sound provided by the rotating mechanism of the machine. For Snow the
relationship between the machine as sculpture, its presence in the real world, and its
role in producing the images on the screen, is the central concern of the work. Te
work can be understood on one level as a metaphor for the artist himself observing
the world, assimilating experiences and producing images:
Te TV image is magic, even though it is in real time; simultaneously, it is a
ghost of the actual events which one is, in this case, part of. Te machine that is
orchestrating these ghost images is never seen in them: it belongs exclusively to
the real side of this equation. Te sound is an essential part of the concreteness
of the machine; if it were silent it would tend more toward a representation and
also have less personality as a unique thing-in-the-world.
Since exhibiting De La, Snow has made a number of video installations which feature
live video images and are designed to be experienced in real time. For example,
Observer, which was frst shown in 1974, subsequently at White Box in New York
(1999) and most recently at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 20023. Observer is
usually installed at a location within an exhibition where a gallery visitor is likely to
stand to look at another exhibit, most often positioned on a wall directly in front of
them. Te work consists of a large X made of white sticky tape that has been placed
onto the gallery foor, monitored via a live video camera that has been mounted on
the ceiling above the X. Te resulting video image is projected directly in front of the
taped X, and when a spectator stands on the spot marked, they are confronted with a
real time, head-to-toe image of themselves in a very fattened perspective, projected
directly in front of them.
In 1978 Snow was commissioned to produce Timed Images, intended to be
permanently installed within a university building located outside Toronto. Te work
involved a video camera positioned to provide a live video image of a photograph of
people passing through a hallway that was shown continuously on a monitor installed
in another part of the same building. According to Snow the equipment stopped
working after a time and was never repaired.
Intrts (1983), installed in an exhibition about the history of video art in
Charleroi, Belgium, consisted of a line of 21 monitors set up in a long row, mounted
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on a single base. A video camera was positioned to provide a live image of the
counter where entrance ticket purchases were made, providing images of the hands
of the purchaser and of the ticket seller during the exchanging of money. All these
transactions were recorded each day of the exhibition and subsequently displayed so
that one after another the monitors displayed the previous transactions providing a
cumulative result so that, by the fnal day of the exhibition all the monitors were flled
with interest.
Tat/Cela/Dat, commissioned by Tierry de Duve for an exhibition at the Palais
des Beaux Arts, Brussels, was a video installation consisting of two large monitors
and a video projection which drew on Snows 1982 flm So is Tis. Sentences in
English, French and Dutch from the same text appeared one word at a time on the
video screens in a 20-minute loop. Te installation included a computer program that
rotated the languages enabling them to appear at varying times on the three diferent
Although known primarily for his work as a flmmaker, Michael Snow has worked
with video consistently since the 1970s, maintaining that he has not been infuenced
by the work of other artists who have worked with video. Very aware of the strengths
of the electronic and digital image Snow has often made use of its unique qualities.
For example his 1982 flm Presents made use of a Quantel Paintbox to digitally
stretch and squeeze the image, and subsequently when devising Corpus Callosum, a
flm that developed from Presents, Snow sought new software techniques to exploit
the potential of the digital video image:
From 82 to actual frst shooting (1998) I worked on writing Corpus Callosum
and following what could be done with digital animation. It became possible
to do what I wanted after I met Greg Hermanovic who is one of the creators
of an animation software called Houdini which we used in making the
flm. It was precisely the manipulability and inherent instability of video, the
possibility to move pixels, to shape in a clay-like way that became possible
with digital means and that wasnt possible with flm that caused the making
of Corpus Callosum.
Il Nuotatore (va troppo spesso ad Heidelberg) was frst presented at Palazzo Furtuny,
Venice in July 1984 within a specially constructed replica swimming pool and
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subsequently restaged in numerous locations including Berlin, Cologne, Milan and
Tokyo (1994) without the lido. Taking inspiration from a short story by Heinrich
Boll, Il Nuotatore presents a fuid and continuous sequence of a swimmer repeatedly
traversing a line of twelve video monitors. A second set of twelve television screens,
placed back-to-back with the frst, display numerous micro-events an emerging
human fgure, a foating lifebuoy, a diver, a sinking anchor, and a ball falling, all
referenced to an additional plinth-mounted monitor imaging a clock face displaying
the elapsed time.
Studio Azzurro, established in Milan by Fabio Cirifno (Milan, 1939), Paola Rosa
(Rimini, 1949) and Leonardo Sangiorgi (Parma, 1949), is a collaborative group of
artists who sought to operate across a range of artistic disciplines and traditions.
From the outset they decided to emphasize their group activity in order to challenge
traditional notions about the individual creative artist, drawing on political ideas and
attitudes from conceptual and performance art, Arte Povera and Body Art, seeking new
11.2: Studio Azzurro (Fabio Cirino,
Paola Rosa and Leonardo Sangiorgi),
Il Nuotatore (va troppo spesso ad
Heidelberg) (The Swimmer (goes to
Heidelberg too often), 1984. Courtesy
of the artists.
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alternatives to the restrictions associated with the creation of the art object, and empha-
sizing a continuous fux between the natural, the environment and daily experience.
Studio Azzurro began an extended period of research with video imaging and
technology in 1982, opting to work with video a medium that seemed to them at
the time to be undisciplined, unruly and light-hearted.
Since that time, the group has produced an extended series of large-scale video
installations and video theatre pieces or video environments, as Studio Azzurro
prefer to call them. All crucially involve a signifcant element of audience interaction,
the level of meaning communicated via an active participation rather than passive
viewing of an audio-visual spectacle. For Studio Azzurro the video environment has
the potential to place the spectators role centrally within the work, thus exploring
multiple possibilities of human interaction.
In Il Nuotatore as with other Studio Azzurro video environments of this period
(Storie per corse, 1985, Vedute (quelle tale non sta mai fermo) 1985, Il giardino delle cose,
1991) there is a deliberate blurring of the boundaries between the natural and the
artifcial, the ephemeral video image and the physical television object which treats
space temporally and time spatially: with the screens of the monitors acting as limita-
tions that imply a temporal passage of the image fow.
For Il Nuotatore Studio Azzurro developed an electronic synchronizer to link the
video sequences playing on 12 separate video players creating an illusion of continuous
movement across the 12 monitors in the installation. Tis fuid movement across the
screens within the environment of the installation was an early manifestation of a
strategy to engage the spectator in an interactive and participatory process, countering
the notion of screen-based video art as a passive viewing experience:
Il Nuotatore was the starting point for a growing interest and awareness of the
poetic applications of interactivity. Te 12 video players that create the illusion
of the fowing image across a line of video monitors were linked together
electronically using a specially developed synchronizer that allowed the tapes
to provide an illusion of movement across the screens. Il Nuotatore is the point
of entry. We have been following a path of technological development more
related to a concept of interactivity that develops thought within the tradition
of video art. It is an idea of technology as participative. Tis way, technology
does not passively enter imagination, but activates antibodies against pacifying
and invading technology. Il Nuotatore represents the root of these developments,
containing these ideas in an embryonic state. Te environment is the context
that surrounds a series of videos. Te gesture feeds the narrative dimension of
the work. Te monitor stops being a box and becomes the lens that highlights
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the virtualization of reality. By putting a number of lenses beside each other, their
contiguity reveals their ambivalence.
Judith Goddards (1965, UK) Television Circle was originally sited in Bellever Forest
on Dartmoor on the west coast of England. Te installation was later adapted for
a gallery setting and presented at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford as part of
the survey exhibition Signs of the Times: A Decade of Video, Film and Slide-Tape
Installation in Britain: 19801990. At the time of its original conception, the notion
of an outdoor installation composed of domestic video equipment was a radical idea,
both a technical challenge for the artist and her sponsors, as well as for those who
encountered it in the forest clearing.
Te idea for the work had been prompted by an invitation to submit an idea for a
new work to be commissioned for one of a number of previously selected sites within
the South West of England. Goddard was intrigued by the potential and location of
the Dartmoor site, and aware of the lack of accessible mains power, she proposed an
outdoor video installation to be powered using a petrol generator. After consulting
detailed Ordinance Survey maps of the area, a visit to the proposed site confrmed
the potential of the location and the viability of her plan, but suggested an alternative
solution to the electricity supply question:
When I actually went down to see it, it was just right! I discovered a clearing
where one tree had been cut down leaving enough space to site the monitors
in a circle. Conveniently the site turned out to be 300 metres from a Forestry
Commission hut that had an electric supply in it, so after some health and safety
discussions I was told that if we used 16mm armoured cable (trailing across the
forest foor), we could use that as the power source. I liked the idea of plugging
in to the National Grid on Dartmoor.
Goddards installation was created in response to the site its location and timeless
natural beauty providing a contrast and counterpoint to the temporary domestic
technology of the installation and the ephemeral images presented on the screens.
Te work consisted of a circle (about 20 feet in diameter) of seven identical large-
screen televisions, housed in steel boxes with weather and vandal-proofed Lexan (a
material used to produce riot shields for the police) screens displaying images from a
single VHS source. Te source tape (later distributed as a single-screen tape entitled
Electron) was an edited video and sound montage depicting images of electrical
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energy, industrial power, electrical networks, including details of insects trapped
in amber (referencing the origins of the word electron, derived from the ancient
Greek word for amber), the electric ring of a domestic cooker, presented as a kind of
contemporary mandala of light and power, the Houses of Parliament at Westminster,
juxtaposed with suburban domesticity. In Goddards own words the tape was a collage
of images of mythology and technology a physical and mental landscape and
connections and interplay between the outer world and the inner realm.
Television Circle took the form of a contemporary monument, deliberately refer-
encing the formation, historical and social signifcance of an ancient stone circle of
which there were numerous authentic examples nearby. Te installations unusual
siting and the way it referenced and challenged notions about the relationship
between the natural landscape and electronic technology took many visitors to the
location by surprise:
11.3: Judith Goddard, Television Circle, 1987. Courtesy of the artist.
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judging by the reaction of some of the people who didnt expect to come
across a video installation in a forest on the moor, it was quite a challenging
intervention . Someone said that it was a bit like putting a motorway in the
middle of the forest, but then other people thought it was wonderful. Tis was
1987 when people really hadnt been exposed to video in an art context. One of
the things that really worked well was the haunting quality of the soundtrack,
which could be heard from quite a distance. People were drawn down the path
and then they would come across this TV circle, among the trees and stone
circles. Tere were layers to the work, but it was essentially a kind of memorial.
One time when I went down there I found a family having a picnic on the
ground in the middle of the TV circle another time it was a couple of forest
In a number of signifcant ways Television Circle was a pioneering and unique work
directly confrontational, whilst simultaneously suggesting a cultural continuity and
the potential for new and challenging relationships between technology and nature,
the domestic and the historical.
Te Situation Envisaged: the Rite II was frst shown at Video Positive 1989 at the Tate
Gallery, Liverpool. It is part of a series that included Te Situation Envisaged: Te Rite
(1980), shown at South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell, and A Situation Envisaged
(1978), frst shown in Video 78 at the Herbert Art Gallery, in Coventry, England.
11.4: David Hall, The Situation
Envisaged: Rite II, diagram, 1980.
Courtesy of the artist.
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Te Situation Envisaged: Rite II consisted of ffteen monitors assembled into a
monolithic block, set close to a wall. Fourteen of these screens were turned towards
the wall, the refected display of the television broadcast images they were receiving,
casting a glow of fickering colour and light onto the walls surface. In the centre of this
monolith, a single monitor, turned to face the audience, displayed a low-resolution
image of the moon drifting across the frame. Te soundtrack was a musical score
derived from the audio signal of television broadcasts.
In Te Situation Envisaged: Rite II Hall considered the phenomenon of broadcast
television and the issue of placing video into a gallery environment.
In the catalogue for the 1990 exhibition Signs of the Times, at the Museum of
Modern Art in Oxford, Hall outlined his approach to video installation. Since frst
working with video in the early 1970s, Hall had been engaged with an exploration
of the relationship between broadcast television and video art (see Chapter 1 and
my discussion of his videotape Tis is a Television Receiver, above). Hall, realizing
the crucial position of television as the mediator of present-day cultural values,
developed a strategy that involved the adoption of TV as the vehicle for an alternative
meditation and critique of contemporary culture. Related to this, and inextricably
tied into the issue of making the work, there was the equally important problem
of showing it. Te broadcasting of video art tapes (or as Hall put it, Art as TV),
intent on a critique of television was resisted by broadcasters, and TV as Art in the
gallery was problematic both because of its ephemeral nature and its time-base. Ever
since Hall had made his frst video installation 60 TV Sets (1972)
he realized that it
presented a further fundamental set of considerations:
Unlike single-screen works, installations are hybrids. Tey involve a physical
structure, usually more than one screen. Tey have no place on TV, they are
gallery works . Te immediate perception of a single monitor video screen
is as a kind of window (unavoidably a television window). At the moment
of attention the viewer assumes total disregard for the TV as object. But the
introduction of a second monitor (or more) into the visual feld presents a
monumental problem. Tere are not just two, there is a confict. Is one screen
given attention, or is the other?
there is an instant confrontation with the total construct the physical,
architectural, three-dimensional structure within a physical space.
Primarily a here-and-now spatial consciousness is operating, necessarily it
must. What is displayed on those screens, in that other temporal dimension,
comes second this is not a conventional viewing situation, it is not a living
room; there is a multiple of screens, presented within a dominant and unique
physical structure, in turn within a specifc and unlikely environment.
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So aside from the abstract objectives that may emanate from the video screen
physical and formal considerations must equally be made all that was to be
said via the screens must also acknowledge the specifc context. And that simul-
taneously the context should not only integrate the screens (as a consciously
formal component) but, by the character of its confguration, support their
abstract content. Tis could not merely be an incidental system for display. Te
combination was the total work.
Tis attitude to video installation, articulated in the above passage and implicit in
Halls work especially in Te Situation Envisaged series, exerted an infuence on the
practice of many video artists in the UK and elsewhere, including my own approach.
Halls conception of the crucial interdependence of relationships between the image
content of the screen and the structure of the sculptural components can be seen as
fundamental to the installations considered in Chapter 14.
Sited in a completely darkened corridor (dimensions variable: between 60 and 90 ft).
Tall Ships presented the viewer with an encounter with 16 black-and-white projected
video images of human fgures of various ages, genders and ethnic origins. As a visitor
walked through the space, the image sequences were triggered electronically, causing
the fgures to approach the screen until they were approximately full size and they
remained in this position until the viewer left the space. Each of the sixteen projec-
tions were independently interactive, which meant that any or all of the fgures could
be in any one of four positions; walking towards or away from the viewer, in the
distance, or standing in the foreground.
Tall Ships was an interactive video installation in which the technological aspect
was deliberately underplayed. Te mechanisms of the installation, its novel image
projection system, the 16-channel confguration and the method of triggering the
sequence playback, were behind the scenes, placed outside the perception of the
gallery visitor. Hills concern in this work was clearly the illusion of the encounter
with the represented human fgures. Te subjects were chosen fairly casually, and not
for any representative aspect, and according to Hill, with an element of chance, most
often through personal relationship.
Writer and artist George Quasha (1942, USA) discusses Tall Ships in relation to
what he calls the videosphere, drawing an important distinction from a response
to the video image as representation, to a response of immediate transformative
awareness. As he points out, the operative mechanism provoking audience response
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to Tall Ships belongs to world of feedback rather than the work of flmic represen-
tation image response, rather than imagistic representation. Quasha is interested
here in the notion that the feedback mechanism is located in the space presented
within the work the videosphere. Tall Ships simultaneously projects an image and a
space for refexive contemplation. For Quasha,
Hill is an artist whose sense of space whether imagistic or linguistic derives
from the possibilities revealed (that is, uncovered and created) by the experience
of video. In short, we are pointing to a kind of self-awareness made possible by
the videosphere, and yet unique to the extraordinary conditions of this piece.
Tall Ships provides the viewer with an opportunity for the objectifcation of self-
awareness in space and time simultaneously. In this installation the fgures presented
11.5: Gary Hill, Tall Ships,
Sixteen-channel Installation,
1992. Courtesy of the artist and
Donald Young Gallery, Chicago.
Photo by Dirk Bleiker.
11.6: Gary Hill, Tall Ships,
Sixteen-channel Installation
(Detail) 1992. Courtesy of the
artist and Donald Young Gallery,
Chicago. Photo by Dirk Bleiker.
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are less images and more like the felds that Bill Viola considers when shooting
his works (see above). Te interactive nature of Tall Ships is crucial in its reinforcing
of this expanded aspect of the videosphere. It supports the triggering of the psycho-
logical aspect of self-awareness the impulse to respond to the individuals who seem
to confront the viewer.
A circle of six wall-mounted monitors displays six head-and-shoulder portraits of the
artist, each corresponding to, and animating the diferent Japanese vowel sounds:
A, I, U, E, O and NN (which, although sounding like a vowel, is not considered
one). Each of the six distorting self-portraits are presented against a brightly coloured
background so, for example A is against red, I against yellow, U is green, E,
blue, etc. Each of these portraits is made to digitally distort in a comical manner as
the artist pronounces the vowel sound.
In the gallery confguration, the sequences on the six monitors are synchronized,
and because the sound only emanates from one of the monitors, fve of the facial
expressions are always therefore incorrect in relation to the vowel that is being
pronounced. At the centre of the circle of monitors there is a seventh (projected)
image that displays a face and sound that can be selected by the gallery visitor via a
touch-screen panel which is set forward of the wall and screens. In this way visitors
are invited to select picture and sound separately. Terefore, for example if the face
of the vowel corresponding to the A picture is selected, the sound will not be A,
but any one of the other vowel sounds. Tis mismatching appears humorous (and
complimentary to the comical pictorial distortions of the artists face). Although
Iimuras stated aim in this work is to separate the identities and properties of picture
and sound, as an indirect consequence the work also presents a false sense of the basics
of the Japanese language.
In the interactive part of the (work), one is however supposed to alter
the relations between pictures/colors and sounds. Tis is a very simple but also
striking statement about the arbitrariness of semiotic relations.
Despite interpretations and perceptions about the semiotic possibilities of this work,
Iimura claims that he did not intend the installation to have any specifc or particular
meaning beyond an attempt to be very universal. He has explained in interviews that
in spoken language the vowel usually acts as a signifer and is very diferent in what
it signifes in diferent languages, and that in comparison with English, Japanese is
more dependent on the vowel sounds. AIUEONN, Six Features exists in numerous
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forms other than as an installation including as an interactive CD-Rom as a live
performance, and as a kind of meta-game in which the participant can form their
own words from the six vowel sounds.
Much of Iimuras work is centred on linguistic and conceptual ideas, and even
in works that are not interactive in the sense that they invite the audience to
11.7: Takahiko limura,
AIUEONN, Six Features,
Interactive installation,
2012. Courtesy of
the artist and Harris
Museum, Preston.
11.8: Takahiko limura,
AIUEONN, Six Features,
Interactive installation
(detail), 1993. Courtesy
of the artist.
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physically participate in the way that AIUEONN Six Features does, they are not
simply about what can be seen and heard on the monitor or from the screen, but are
centred on the implications of the spectators experience of looking and perceiving.
A number of these works explore the relationship between word and image and
the diferences between the construction of meaning in English and Japanese. For
example, in the Installation As I See You,You See Me (1990), two video cameras face
each other and the written text I See You is mounted on an adjacent wall. Te
artist is recorded walking back and forth between the two cameras repeating this
phrase in the both Japanese and English. As with previous installations such as Tis
is a Camera Which Shoots Tis (1980) Iiumra is interested in dealing the complex
interrelationship between the image of the word, the word of the image and between
speech, text and sound. Iimura describes this approach to the relationship between
words and images as Te Phenomenology of the Self and draws directly on the
ideas of Jacques Derrida specifcally from Speech and Phenomena (1978) in which
Derrida wrote: I hear myself at the same time as I speak. Although the original
Derrida quote was only concerned with speech, Iimura has extended this idea to
include sight and the act of seeing oneself. Iimura is interested in the fact that the
viewer of the video work would no longer be the one who speaks the words, but
the one who sees and hears.
Takahiko limura has a strong sense that technology and theory are not antago-
nistic, but highly complimentary and his experiments with interactivity and the
relationship between theory, language and electronic and digital imaging is a
testament to this insight. His video work, which includes all aspects and manifesta-
tions of the medium-live performance, installation, single and multiple channel video
tape, spans 40 years, and provides a bridge between the approach of American and
Western European art practice and the sensibility of Eastern aesthetics.
Te video artists discussed in section two have adopted a range of strategies to making,
exhibiting and presenting their work. Many of the artists who have made single-
screen durational tapes have taken up a position in relation to broadcast television.
A number of the works directly address the broadcast context: Sjlander and Wecks
Monument, Serra and Schoolmans Television Delivers People, Halls Tis is a Television
Monitor/Receiver, and Birnbaums Technology/ Transformation: Wonder Woman have
all been broadcast in one form or another, and function most successfully in relation
to television. Tey refer primarily to the broadcast viewing condition, referencing,
deconstructing and/or critiquing the home television audience experience. Although
very explicitly not broadcast television programmes in any traditional sense, they are
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about television, and even when presented in non-broadcast situations such as the
gallery, they address the television context.
Some works however, which include Elwes With Child, Reevess Obsessive Becoming,
Vasulkas Art of Memory, and Violas Te Refecting Pool, make no explicit reference
to the broadcast context, and yet function well in this arena, operating as single-
screen durational pieces with much in common, superfcially at least, with broadcast
television programming. All of these works have been screened on television at
one time or another, although none, with the exception of Obsessive Becoming, was
produced primarily for broadcast.
For the most part however, video artists working in this period functioned delib-
erately and explicitly outside of the television production structure, and most, if not
all, saw themselves and their works in some important sense as being in opposition to
mainstream broadcast television. Te Duvet Brothers Blue Monday, like Technology/
Transformation: Wonder Woman was intended to be critical of conventional television,
made to be shown outside of the broadcast context, via alternative distribution
Te tape was, however, once broadcast as part of a programme specifcally
devoted to the work of Scratch Video artists.
Although Peter Donebauers work has been broadcast occasionally, Merging-
Emerging and many of his subsequent tapes were produced through a process of live
interaction between the artist and his collaborative partners, including musicians and
dancers. Tis unusual production process emphasizes the expanded potential for the
work as a live experience, similar to that of the participatory and active relationship
between an audience and live musicians. Although Donebauers works can be experi-
enced via television and in closed-circuit gallery environments, they reach their full
potential as works of art in this live viewing context. Tere is also a signifcant issue
here in relation to the abstract (non-representational) nature of Donebauers tapes.
All of his video work is non-narrative and non-representational and perhaps best
described as gestural. Te live experience of this gestural content is totally lost when
Donebauers work is presented in gallery or broadcast format, and thus the most
accessible and rewarding aspect of the work is absent.
Works such as Wojciech Bruszweskis Te Video Touch and Steve Partridges Monitor
were intended to be shown in an art gallery outside of the broadcast context, but
function primarily in a direct relationship to the everyday experience of the television
box. Clearly making reference to a closed-circuit video system, these works have
been shown primarily as gallery pieces, and distributed on videocassette by organiza-
tions such as LVA in the UK. Both works, although durational, refer directly to the
television as object, forming a direct bridge to pure sculptural video installation,
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primarily intended to function within an art gallery environment such as, De La, Il
Nuototore and Rite II, Te Situation Envisaged.
Video artists working with installation often sought to explore spatial and physical
relationships in relation to screen image content, frequently including numerous
interactive elements. Tis participatory dimension is of paramount importance in
video installation, the audience engaging directly with the work at a physical and
emotional level. In installations such as Judith Goddards Television Circle and Gary
Hills Tall Ships this physical engagement produced an awareness of a radical new
space for art spectatorship beyond the confnes of the gallery or the narrative linearity
of conventional television broadcasts. In the case of Takahiko limuras AIEUONN Six
Features, this level of participation has been extended and enhanced by the addition
of computer-aided interactive technology.
Tis sculptural and participatory audience engagement was particularly infuential
on my own decision to concentrate on installation work at the end of the 1980s.
Given a commitment to video work that was decidedly not for broadcast, and an
increasing interest in the relationship between images on screen and the placement of
the monitors/screens within the space, a move towards multi-screen installation work
was inevitable within my own practice. Tis attitude was not uncommon among
artists who had chosen to work with video during this period.
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Although as we have seen in Chapter 4, the early history of artists video was primarily
centred on developments in Western Europe and North America, it has always
been a medium in which there was an extensive cross-fertilization of infuences and
approaches characterized by the free movement of ideas and experimentation. Artists,
curators and writers have been increasingly interested in the medium and its potential
to challenge and reach new audiences and over the last two decades artists video has
become a global phenomenon.
Tis chapter contains a number of examples of work by artists from countries and
regions where video art has more recently began to emerge such as China, the Middle
East, Pakistan and Africa. In some cases the artists under discussion have returned
home from studying in art schools and academies in countries where the medium
has already become more main-stream such as the USA, the UK and Germany. But
elsewhere, particularly in China for example, political and social changes opened the
way for the recognition of the medium as a valuable addition to the artists repertoire.
In a darkened gallery space two large-scale square, black-and-white images are
projected onto adjacent walls. Both images begin with an image of the same
auditorium, one full, the other empty, which then quickly cuts to a continuous
panning shot (from left to right) showing the same auditorium. In the image on the
left-hand screen, the seats are all occupied by men identically dressed in white shirts
with black trousers. In the image on the right, the auditorium is empty, the seats
folded. In the left image a male singer enters onto the stage, bows to his audience,
and turns away to face a microphone. In the adjacent image a shrouded and silhou-
etted fgure (female?) enters the frame and faces an identical stage, although the
auditorium is still empty. Te male performer begins to sing a classical Persian song,
with words by Jalal ed-Din Rumi, a thirteenth-century Suf poet. Te passionate and
emotional tone of the singing suggests to a Western audience, unfamiliar with the
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meaning and content of the lyrics, that the song might express romantic and secular
love rather than the religious content is was written to convey. During this impas-
sioned and compelling performance, the other performer, seen only from the back,
remains mysterious and anonymous and seems simply to be looking out at the empty
auditorium, perhaps lost in thought, or perhaps listening passively to the performance
emanating from the opposite screen.
As the male performer completes his song and turns to receive and acknowledge his
applause, he is suddenly distracted, and turns away from his masculine audience again
to face the camera (and the of-screen audience) and approaches the microphone,
but not to sing, instead he is listening, concentrating on the sounds coming from
the performer on the other screen. On this other screen the performer is gradually
revealed as the camera begins to track with a continuously encircling and swirling
motion, and is fnally revealed as a woman dressed in a traditional chador as she
begins to perform a powerfully emotional but wordless, rhythmic musical chant.
In marked contrast to the mans poetic and precise lyrics, the sensuous, abstracted
emotional almost primal sounds of the woman produce an expression of loss and
yearning. Te two screens now seem to have become linked, as the male performer
seems drawn in to focus on the womans performance, listening intently, captivated
and mesmerised by her lamenting cri de coeur.
As her electronically enhanced and wordless song fades out, the image of the man
is digitally frozen, and his expression of uncertainty is held, as the female performer
completes her gestures signalling that her song is complete. Both images fade to black.
For Sharin Neshat (1957, Iran), an artist of Iranian origin who has been educated
in the United States, the work does have a feminist perspective, but rather than a
specifcally Western feminist approach Turbulent begins with an attempt to depict
the Iranian experience:
Te reality of contemporary feminism in Iran is that resistance is an essential part
of a womans experience. As a result, women are very tough, the exact opposite
of the outside image we have of these women. My attempt has always been to
reveal, in a very candid way, the layers of unpredictability and strength that are
not so evident on the surface.
In this double-screen installation the viewer is presented with a complex range of
potential possibilities and interpretations, as the work raises numerous questions and
suggests multiple meanings. At an important level the viewer is asked to evaluate and
examine both the visual and cultural context, and he or she is required to engage with
the work via his/her personal political and cultural perspectives, as much as his or her
chosen visual perspective. As the Canadian flmmaker Atom Egoyan has written: It is
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precisely this unique quality of the work its ability to be at once open and generous
and yet so completely impenetrable that is so efective in terms of the way the work
addresses and engages the spectator.
Although at one level Turbulent presents the audience with a clear depiction and
potential critique of the patriarchal authority and privilege in Iranian society, it also
uses the formal device of the double screen to simultaneously evoke and present the
multiple dualities of contemporary cultural life outside of the Iranian context: East/
West, Secular/Religious, Male/Female, and perhaps most signifcantly, the roles and
conventions of Active/Passive, both in terms of the way the that the male and female
roles are interpreted and depicted and in terms of the way individual members of
the audience can choose to engage with the work. Te twin-screen format allows
the spectator to select a viewpoint and to choose their own level of engagement and
interpretation, and perhaps most importantly to become aware of that process.
For Neshat, Turbulent is the frst of a series of three installations to explore the
topic of the roles of Masculine and Feminine within the social structure of contem-
porary Iran the other twoRapture (1999) and Fervor (2000) complete the trilogy
and for the artist also close the chapter. It was the experience of making this work
and the ideas and themes that emerged from it that led to the other works in the
series. For Neshat both Turbulent and Rapture are based on visual and conceptual
opposites which centre on the way men and women respond to the society they are
living within:
Te male singer represents the societys ideal man in that he sticks to the rules
in his way of dressing and in his performance of a passionate love song written
by the 13th-century Suf poet Rumi. Opposite to him, the female singer is quite
rebellious. She is not supposed to be in the theater, and the music she performs
breaks all the rules of traditional Islamic music. Her music is free-form, impro-
vised, not tied to language, and unpredictable, almost primal.
Tis oppositional duality is representative of a wider set of concerns and issues that
can be understood as universal and transcendent. Although Turbulent can be read as a
critique of the position of women in Iranian contemporary life and the fact that they
are prohibited from public singing, the work can also be understood to engage with
issues that are not simply culturally specifc, but address questions related to much
wider concerns which connected to freedom and identity for both genders.
Turbulent also provides an example of the technical and formal convergence
between flm and video that has occurred over the last decade. In discussions and
interviews the artist has referred to Turbulent and the other two works in the series
as video installations, and yet at other times Neshat has spoken of the cinematic
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nature of the work. Increasingly, this way of describing gallery-based moving image
works is not contradictory. In fact, Turbulent was shot on 16mm flm that was then
transferred to video and projected digitally. Tis hybrid approach is a clear example
of the formal signifcance of the interwoven nature of contemporary artists video.
Te term video installation refers to the preferred format of the display medium,
which is chosen partly for its practical convenience over flm projection, but also
for its perceived gallery credentials, and the fact that it is not a conventional cinema
experience, but has sculptural and participatory aspects that are more related to
approaches developed in artists video than to narrative or experimental flm. Tis
aspect is further reinforced by the fact that the entire work is available to be viewed
and experienced on-line, with the twin images contained within the single screen of
a personal computer. On close viewing, there are a number of manipulations and
digital post-production modifcations in Turbulent which are intrinsic to video
these include the shaping of the 16mm flm format to provide the identical square
frame of the installation, the freeze-frame editing of the male performer in the fnal
moments of the left-hand frame, and the electronic manipulation of the women
performers voice. Whilst this kind of post-production is not exclusive to video, they
are intrinsic to the artists intention to construct a work in which the audience is
required to actively engage with the work rather than to be immersed in a narrative
or quasi-narrative experience.
Wild Boy is one of a series of deceptively playful narrative videotapes that Guy
Ben-Ner (1969, Israel) began in the late 1990s and that feature himself and other
members of his family. Tese works, which American flm academic Tom Gunning
has described as anti-movies, in which childhood fantasies meet adult ironies

include Berkleys Island (1999), Moby Dick (2000), House Hold (2001) and Elia the
Story of an Ostrich Chick (2003). Tese videotapes often feature sets constructed
within the domestic interior spaces of the artists home/studio and involve a complex
mix of slapstick humour, cinematic narrative, with references to performance art,
literature and the often-conficting roles of parent, father and artist.
Wild Boy takes the Franois Trufaut flm Te Wild Child (Lenfant sauvage) (1970)
as its primary inspiration, but also references other works exploring the themes
relating to the discovery and civilizing of a feral child, such as Werner Herzogs 1974
flm Te Engima of Kaspar Hauser and Rudyard Kiplings Te Jungle Book (1894). Te
work also draws on numerous other sources and references, most signifcantly ideas
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related to the silent flm auteurs Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and the perfor-
mance work of the artist Dennis Oppenheim.
In Lenfant sauvage Trufaut himself plays the part of Doctor Jean Itard, the man
who seeks to tame the feral child who is the central protagonist of the flm. Guy
Ben-Ners Wild Boy makes a number of direct visual references to the Trufaut flm,
in an acknowledged homage to the French flmmaker; the scene in which the wild
boy spends the night in a tree top, the drumming scene in which father and son
mime to the Doors 1967 track Break on Trough to the Other Side and numerous
shared walks in the countryside.
In Wild Boy, Ben-Ner has cast himself as the doctor,
echoing the narrative structure of the Trufaut flm, but also engaging in a number
of parallel narratives related to the role of parent and father to the child in his video,
played by Ben-Ners young son, Amir.
12.1: Guy Ben-Ner,
Wild Boy, 2004.
Courtesy of the artist.
12.2: Guy Ben-Ner,
Wild Boy, 2004.
Courtesy of the artist.
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In Wild Boy Amir is initially shown running wild, then once captured, being
educated and civilized bathed, dressed and taught to speak and write through a
series of inventive, playful and gently comic episodes. For Ben-Ner, this central theme
of the wild boy and his education is the core idea of the work to use the artists
own image, the magnet that attracts many ideas.
In Wild Boy and earlier works of
this period Ben-Ner seeks to weave a complex work that presents and explores the
layers of power-relations that pervade both the culture and his own private life. Te
rich mix of cultural references built around the central story in Wild Boy is extended
to reference Buster Keatons work with his father Joe in his early family Vaudeville
routines, Dennis Oppenhiems live performance work with his young son Erik,
the notion that silent cinema was tamed by the introduction of spoken language and
sound efects in the late 1920s.
Ben-Ner chooses to work with narrative structures because of his fascination
with storytelling and a desire to reach a diverse audience. Guy Ben-Ners works
of this period aim to engage the viewer via a complex blending of the quotidian
world of the domestic, the fantastic world of the adventure story, and the often
conficting roles of the family man and the artist, and the consequences of his
personal choices:
I was faced with the choice of either taking a studio and spending a lot of time
there or staying at home and being a proper dad, and not getting a lot of practice
[with my art] because Im pretty obsessive whenever I do something working
at home but with the kids was a kind of compromise. As if I was saying: OK, I
stay at home, but you have to pay for this.
Te narrative progression of Wild Boy is not just achieved by restaging selected
cultural fragments, but is also communicated to the viewer through the cinematic
agency of image and sound. For example, during the childs initial wild stage, the
sound track includes natural sounds and efects such as birdsong and environmental
atmosphere. Once the boy has been captured, the soundtrack disappears altogether,
and the images are silent. Te camera work also takes on a similar parallel function,
fuidly tracking the boys movements during the untamed stages, but becoming static
and fxed once he has been caught and the process of education begins. In addition
to the multi-layered mis-en scene, the artist has been able to blend in aspects of
documentary, as Guy Ben-Ner attests that within the work there are some signifcant
and authentic moments Amirs frst hair cut, his frst words in English, and the frst
time he puts on a shirt himself.
Ben-Ner has stated that he was for many years fascinated by the writings and ideas
of Jacques Lacan, and in Wild Boy there is a clear reference to the potential two-way
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communication that develops as the father exchanges his form of learning structure
and language, for the boys blissful prelinguistic state, ofering Ben-Ner something
valuable in return. As Rebecca Weisman points out in relation to the work:

unconscious other that Ben-Ners child refects to him ofers him the ability to
unlearn and regress, in order to redefne, reconfgure and re-circumscribe his own
subject-hood, moving within the semiotic space of video and flm itself .
Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star-Spangled Banner is one of the frst video works the
artist Bani Abidi (1971, Pakistan) made after returning to her native Pakistan from
a six-year period living and studying in Chicago. In this double-screen projection,
a group of local musicians who earn their living playing at wedding ceremonies in
Lahore are presented engaged in the task of learning to play the American national
anthem, a tune that is clearly not part their usual repertoire. On one side of the
projection screen the group are shown seated together in a rehearsal space, learning
the tune by ear listening to a pre-recorded version of the Star-Spangled Banner on an
old cassette recorder. Te fxed-camera presents the group as they progressively pick up
the melody and rhythms on their instruments (oboe, clarinet, bagpipes and drums),
before fnally playing their somewhat uncertain although instantly recognizable
rendition of the anthem. Te end result of their session is strange and unfamiliar
rendition of the tune, but it has a delightfully local, if somewhat discordant sound.
Tere is a sense that the music has been adapted and fltered through the process,
although not entirely re-appropriated.
On the opposite side of the projection screen and running concurrently with the
rehearsal session, the musicians are shown preparing for a performance, dressing up
in colourful and rather formal garments which clearly draw on the design of the
uniforms of a British military band, referencing Pakistans colonial past and heritage.
Te structure and presentation of the work has a clear pedigree, and follows an
approach that has been explored by video artists when documenting a task-oriented
performative activity. Te installation makes efective and economical use of the
double-screen format and has a powerful political message underlying its humour and
afectionate depiction of the band and their performance. Te work makes a clear and
troubling statement about the precarious position of Pakistan perched in transition
between its colonial past and its current uncertain relationship to the United States
and its global infuence.
Te artist was acutely aware of this position when making the work and wanted to
express her perceptions of the situation in her home country, extending ideas she had
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previously engaged with in Anthems (2000), a split screen video work exploring the
way in which popular music could evoke nationalist feeling. Abidi developed the idea
for Star-Spangled Banner at the end of 2003 after returning to Pakistan from the USA.
With this fresh perspective, the dynamics of the situation were very apparent to her:
Te war against terror had just begun and it all felt really wrong, that Pakistan
was once again in the midst of a war that involved the US and Afghanistan
considering that the contemporary history of the country had already been
shaped by the US/Soviet confict in Afghanistan, with disastrous consequences.
And I would often think of Pakistan as a young and faltering nation that was
caught between global geopolitical movements (British colonization followed
very soon by a kind of US colonization) and how that left very little space for
any real independence.
Abidi met the members of the band whilst in Lahore and enlisted their participation
via as she describes it a purely commercial transaction. Te artist devised and set
the task for the musicians, and recorded their progress over the two consecutive after-
noons whilst they learned the music. She wanted the video documentation to convey
their relaxed attitude to engaging with the exercise and to simultaneously make a
wider and more political point. Te multi-layered idea at the core of the work with
its underlying message is central; there is a sense of acceptance and even indiference
to the new political reality in which the band players have found themselves.
Abidi did not study video whilst at art college, but began working with the medium
after years of making paintings, sculpture and installations, discovering the experience
of being able to work with time and sound particularly appropriate to her ideas. Her
12.3: Bani Abidi, Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star-Spangled Banner, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.
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frst work with the medium was Mangoes (19992000) a single-screen work in which
she plays the parts of two expatriate Pakistani and Indian women who, whilst eating
mangoes together begin to argue as they reminisce about their childhood. Abid says
she found this work liberating to make and to exhibit, in contrast to her experience
of showing painting and sculpture and the efort of moving physical objects around
the world.
Shan Pipe Band Learns the Star-Spangled Banner is a deceptively straightforward
work in terms of its technical and formal approach. To some viewers this unmediated
depiction of the process with its fxed-camera documentation of a local band learning
to play a new tune, might perhaps on frst encounter appear simply humorous and
even light-hearted. However the power of the work grows as it unfolds and the under-
lying meanings resonate even more powerfully as a result of Abidis light touch and
insightful approach to the medium.
Tis 30-minute videotape, considered to be the frst by an artist in China, was made
partly as a response to an invitation to produce a new work for a Conceptual Art
conference in 1987. However, it should be considered as neither a new departure, nor
unique in Zhang Peilis oeuvre. Originally trained as a painter, the artist frst began to
explore the potential of a variety of alternative media in his practice during the 1980s,
including photography and video. Since its initial screening 30 x 30 has become
an iconic work, symbolizing the opening up of modern art in China, but this tape
should not be considered in isolation from its broader context. As Robin Peckham
points out in his essay on the work of Zhang Peili, proclaiming this particular work,
and the artistic output of Peili in isolation, is problematic and deceptive:
Tat Zhang Peili is so often hailed as the founding father of video art in China
has actually done a disservice to the compelling connections between his own
work and the critical artistc and pedagogical ofshoots that have come to defne
the feld of cultural production in China today. Recent scholarship and curatorial
exegesis, however, seem poised to change our understanding of both his oversized
place in the canon and the considerations behind specifc works.
Te 1987 Hunangshan conference marked a turning point in Chinese contemporary
art, and Peilis video tape 30x30 has come to symbolise a new wave of innovative
Conceptual Art practice that has its roots in an approach that can be traced back to
the mid-1980s and continues into the recent period.
Te original version of 30x30
was a continuous three-hour recording of the artist repeatedly smashing and then
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carefully gluing a 30x30 centimetre mirror back together again. (Tis 30x30 cm size
could be understood to be approximately the size of a small TV screen, although TV
screens are not square 3:4 being the standard aspect ratio)
In an interview Peili claimed that he had not set out to make a statement with a
new medium, but claimed his intentions were more straightforward, and that it was
the capacity to present the documentation of his action in continuous real time:
[I] wanted to create something vexing. It didnt employ any tricks to evoke
joyful sentiments; I wanted to make people aware of the existence of time. Te
temporal aspect of video happened to suit this need.
Visually the work is tightly framed to provide the viewer with a direct and fxed
perspective of the activity. Te artist sits cross-legged on the foor in front of a small,
square unframed mirror. We do not see all of him, but there are occasional glimpses
of his refection in the mirror, his expression focused intently on his task, which is to
repeatedly break and repair the mirror placed in front of him on the foor. Te artists
hands are protected with white latex gloves, one hand occasionally holding a small
tube of glue, the other carefully manoeuvring the shards of mirror into position. Te
sound is synchronous and ambient.
Te latex gloves that Peili is wearing in the tape are a constantly recurring motif, and
feature in many of his works and for Peili they represent and symbolise the Chinese
governments institutional control and what he terms the hygienic instability of the
Te videotapes original 180-minute duration, spanning the length of entire
Sony Betamax cassette tape, was in part a ploy to challenge the intended conference
audience and their commitment to the aesthetics of conceptual purity in a desire to
move away from the conventions of studio art. However, at a more general level the
tape was a reaction to the increasing popularity of broadcast television entertainment
and a desire to mock the perceived social impact and consequences of passive specta-
torship in China.
Peilis work, which includes performance, photography and installation as well
as video and electronic art, is centered on his fascination for the social and political
dimensions of these alternative art forms and allied to an interest in the mismatch
between lived reality and the mediated image of popular media. Since producing
30x30 Peili has exerted a powerful infuence on subsequent generations of Chinese
artists both through his work and via his teaching position at the China Academy of
Art in Hangzhou, where he founded the department of New Media in 2003. In 2011
a major retrospective mounted at the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai presented
many of his most signifcant and infuential video and installation works from across
his career. In addition to 30x30 the exhibition presented Watermark (2004), an
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hour-long video recording of water droplets evaporating; Uncertain Pleasure (1996) a
twelve-screen video installation showing close-ups of a hand scratching various parts
of a male body; and Water: Standard Edition of Cihai Dictionary (1991) in which, the
artist presents a recording of the well-known broadcast TV news reader Xing Zhibin,
reading multiple dictionary defnitions and meanings of the word water in precisely
approved Chinese pronunciation the equivalent of the BBCs Received English.
Equally signifcant and infuential are video works that explore and critique issues
related to state control and the institutionalization of the body such as the videotape
Hygiene No. 3 (1991) in which he carefully washes a chicken in a bowl of warm water
and Assignment No. 1 (1992), detailing a routine blood test displayed on twelve difer-
ently adjusted video monitors
However important a breakthrough 30x30 was in the history of Chinese contem-
porary art, Zhang Peilis video work should be understood as part of a larger body